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SPLIT COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF CABLE TV

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Other Supreme Court action on A2.The Supreme Court on Monday gave cable television operators greater free-speech rights than broadcasters, telling lower courts to restudy a federal law that requires cable systems to carry local broadcast stations.

Four justices voted to strike down the law, but five said the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia should have a chance to review the law under the new First Amendment standards announced Monday.Since 1986, the high court has recognized that cable television systems have some free-speech rights. But until Monday, it had declined to say how far such rights extended.

Monday's fragmented decision on cable television operations, which yielded four separate opinions, gave cable systems more constitutional protection against government regulation than that enjoyed by over-the-air broadcasters - TV and radio stations and networks.

"In light of . . . fundamental technological differences between broadcast and cable transmission," courts should use a higher standard in determining whether government regulation violates cable operators' free speech rights, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the court's main opinion.

The Constitution's free-speech guarantee must be considered when government attempts to tell cable companies what stations they must carry, Kennedy said.

Congress enacted the "must carry" provision of the 1992 Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act.

The law was enacted mainly to regulate the price of cable TV. But it also requires cable systems to use about one-third of their channel space for local broadcast stations.