The cable television earnings season kicks off this week, with rising optimism about cash flows bumping up against low-level worries about high-speed data and satellite TV competition.

Shares in all the major cable operators are up over the past few months, prompting the usual questions about threats to the industry from the latest developments on perennial issues -- notably, Rupert Murdoch's deal to acquire DirecTV parent Hughes Electronics ( GMH) and local telcos' price cuts for high-speed Internet access.

First out of the gate among the pure-play cable operators is Cox Communications ( COX), which posted a 5-cent-a-share loss Monday morning. Insight Communications ( ICCI) releases results Tuesday evening and the big kahuna, Comcast ( CMCSA), reports Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, direct broadcast satellite operator EchoStar Communications ( DISH) is set to release its first-quarter results Tuesday morning, giving cable investors a chance to see how green the grass is growing on the other side of the fence.

Going into the quarterly announcements, investors felt good about cable. Shares in all the operators are up from the fourth-quarter earnings season of two months ago. Leading the pack on a percentage-gain basis is Charter Communications ( CHTR), the Paul Allen-controlled operator over whom financial and legal clouds have stalled in the wake of Adelphia Communications' bankruptcy filing last year. As of Friday's close, shares in Charter were up 62% to $1.62 since the end of February, thanks to diminishing fears of a bankruptcy filing. Over the same time period, Comcast was up 4% to $30.49, while Cox had risen 8% to $32.05.

Investors also have reason to be optimistic given the numbers released April 23 by Time Warner Cable, the AOL Time Warner ( AOL) subsidiary that is the second-largest cable operator, behind Comcast. Aside from revenue that Time Warner Cable garnered from programmers for channel promotion -- money that the operator accounts for differently from most other cable operators -- revenue growth was strong. Basic cable subscription growth -- an Achilles heel for many cablers -- was a relatively strong 1.1% year over year.

A La Modem

The above-mentioned stock gains in recent months for Cox and Comcast would have been bigger, however, were it not for a resurgence in worries about price competition in high-speed Internet service -- a high-margin product that's been a top growth engine for cable operators over the past year.

While some cable observers have suspected for months that cable operators were going to have to cut prices on high-speed data , that threat seemed largely theoretical until last week, when news trickled out of pricing cuts planned by DSL providers Verizon Communications ( VZ) and SBC Communications ( SBC). Fears that those price cuts will force cablers to respond with cuts of their own helped lop 4% from Cox and Comcast share prices Friday.

Meanwhile, another nagging yet hard-to-quantify threat comes from DBS. As cable shares dropped Friday, shares in Dish Network operator EchoStar jumped $2.04, or 7%, to $32.03. That leap followed EchoStar's announcement late Thursday of 42 new geographical markets -- ranging from Albany, N.Y., to Yakima, Wash. -- in which EchoStar plans to roll out local broadcast station service via satellite by year's end. Such programming has proven especially helpful for EchoStar in competing against local cable operators. EchoStar also announced plans Thursday to roll out two high-definition television channels -- more of a niche product than local broadcast stations, but one that gives ammunition for EchoStar as it fights with cablers for well-off customers.

And where once cable TV operators had to wonder about what type of challenge might be posed by a consolidated EchoStar and Hughes, they now have to worry about the role Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. ( NWS) will play in the now-likely scenario that he'll gain control of Hughes. News Corp., Hughes and Hughes parent General Motors ( GM) on Friday filed the formal application for their proposed deal to put DirecTV under Murdoch's control.