WASHINGTON, D.C.: Cable companies cannot refuse to carry local broadcast stations, the Supreme Court ruled. On a 5-4 vote, justices upheld the 1992 "must carry" law that said cable providers must include local stations as part of their cable lineup. Cable providers had argued that the law is a violation of free speech because it grants local broadcasters preferential access to cable networks. As a result, national cable channels such as Comedy Central and Fox News can't muscle their way into some desirable full cable systems. "More than 3.5 million viewers have lost access to all or part of the C-Span networks since the "must carry' rule became law in October 1992," said C-Span Chairman Brian Lamb. But in a 5-4 ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the law ensures that non-cable subscribers (about 40 percent of all U.S. households) have the same access to information and entertainment as cable users. Without the law, supporters say, independent broadcast stations would find themselves squeezed as advertising dollars flowed to cable TV.