Updated from 9:07 a.m. EDT Charter Communications ( CHTR) is showing progress in its effort to gain firmer financial footing. For the first quarter ended March 31, the St. Louis-based cable operator reported better-than-expected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, accompanied by strict penny-pinching and a strong growth in the high-speed Internet business. "We're making steady progress operationally," said Chairman and CEO Carl Vogel on a conference call with analysts Wednesday. Vogel said Charter continues to shoot for positive free cash flow in late 2003 or early 2004, if not earlier. The company still expects a majority of its revenue and cash flow growth to come in the second half of the year, he said. Shares in Charter, which spent most of March below a dollar because of concerns about the company's liquidity, rose 15 cents Wednesday to trade at $2.03. Over the past year, the company has been dogged by concerns about cash flow, and has restated past financial results amid investigations into its reporting practices.