BY JON LAFAYETTE Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Commerce Committee, threw down the gauntlet on a la carte programming to the CEOs of the five largest cable systems late last week. Citing the new agreement between Cablevision Systems and the YES Network that lets customers off the hook for paying for the newly created sports tier if they don’t want it, McCain asked the CEOs of Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter, Cox and Adelphia to allow their customers to not pay for channels they wish to skip. “I challenge you to provide your customers with similar choices,” said McCain. “Especially with respect to the most expensive programming, like sports, that continue to drive up cable rates.” A spokesman for Charter Communications parent Vulcan Ventures confirmed that the company is searching for candidates to fill high-level executive vacancies, but dismissed rumors from sources inside and outside Charter that Vulcan is looking to replace Charter CEO Carl Vogel. “Neither the company nor anyone on its behalf have been looking for a new CEO,” said Vulcan spokesman Michael Nank. Charter spokesman Dave Andersen also dismissed the rumors, saying Vogel’s job is safe and that he remains in the good graces of Vulcan chairman Paul Allen. Rumors of a search for a new CEO reached Wall Street analysts on Friday. “I’d hate to see it happen,” said Ted Henderson, an analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. “But given the situation over at Charter, it’s hard to dismiss the speculation that his days are numbered.” Terayon Communications Systems has begun to sever ties to CLECs and ILECs, halting development of its telecom equipment and laying off 100 employees, or 20% of its work force. It’ll be business as usual on the broadband end of things, however. “Nothing in our cable side — voice, data or video — is being affected,” a spokesperson for Terayon said. CBS and ESPN are negotiating to have the cable network pick up some NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in the event of war with Iraq, contrary to earlier reports that the broadcast network would move the tournament to one or more Viacom cable networks…. Cox Communications tapped North Virginia as its second market for DVR service. On April 1 Cox NoVa will begin offering the service to digital cable subscribers in upgraded areas for $9.95 a month, on top of the $9.95 monthly cost of leasing a Scientific-Atlanta 8000 DVR set-top…. Yahoo is this week expected to roll out Yahoo Platinum, its subscription broadband service, which includes news, entertainment and sports content from this week’s NCAA college basketball tournament and more — for $9.95 a month…. Rogers Cable and Videotron have applied for a license from the Canadian government to carry the Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera…. Earthlink is throwing its hat into the voice-over-IP ring. The Internet service provider will use technology from VoIP startup Vonage to provide its broadband customers full local service and basic long distance for $39.99 a month.