South Korean cable companies will cease broadcasting the AFN Pacific Prime channel this month, leaving some U.S. personnel living off base looking elsewhere for the programming they’ve grown accustomed to.
American Forces Network-Korea personnel take a satellite feed of the Pacific Prime broadcast and insert local command information including nightly news broadcasts, Korea-specific commercials and alerts such as school closures and product recalls.
That product is then provided to the on-base cable subscribers and is sent out over the open airwaves, so any USFK member who has an antenna and is within range can pick up the signal.
The purpose of the over-the-air broadcast is to provide another means of emergency-information transmission, a supplement to the primary radio outlet, according to USFK spokesman Col. Franklin Childress.
But South Korean cable companies also capture the signal and then sell it along with their other programs, according to Childress.
American companies attempting to sell their programming in South Korea in recent years raised the issue, saying, “‘You guys have got to do something about it,’” he said.
American Forces Radio and Television Service contacted USFK and asked the command to “take action,” Childress said.
USFK gave a letter to the Korean Broadcasting Commission on June 17, asking “respectfully” that it direct the removal of Pacific Prime from the Korean cable lineups.
Childress said the KBC moved faster than expected, and some cable companies began running announcements last week to let customers know the channel would stop being broadcast this month.
Kang Dong-won, director of New Media and Foreign Channel division with the Korean Broadcast Commission, confirmed during a phone interview that USFK requested that stoppage.
Kang said KBC officials summoned several cable companies to Seoul for a meeting in July and then sent a letter to all companies broadcasting the signal to explain the situation.
Childress said pulling the channel from the non-authorized broadcasters was vital, since it could have affected “our worldwide programming” had the American companies stopped providing their product to AFRTS.
“This really has to do with ‘What’s the right thing to do?’” he said. “We can’t just look the other way,” while unauthorized broadcasts go out.
For many of those off-base residents, South Korean cable or satellite service normally is provided when renting an apartment or house. Those USFK personnel will lose access to Pacific Prime and will either need to pick up the over-the-air signal or get an AFN Direct-to-Home satellite dish and decoder box, available through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
Both Childress and AFN-Korea commander Lt. Col. Michael Lawhorn stressed that the satellite option is best.
“AFN Korea reminds off-post residents that while set-top or rooftop antennas may allow limited television reception, DTH satellite decoder systems remain the best method to receive AFN television programming,” according to a statement on the AFN-Korea Web site.
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service sells the satellite dish for $83.95, the decoder box rental fee is $13 a month, and residents can expect to pay a contracted company about $150 to install the dish. And AAFES requires customers to use the in-house Military Star Card, with an October billing cycle APR of 12.74 percent.
“Because of the noncommercial aspect of American Forces Radio and Television Service programming, it is important that only authorized viewers are enjoying the programming that comes from AFRTS,” AAFES spokesman Master Sgt. Donovan Potter stated in an e-mail response query. “AAFES requires a customer to use the Military STAR card for equipment rental because this provides an added measure of security in being sure that authorized users are renting the equipment and viewing the programming. If a customer is able to get a military STAR card, then he or she is an authorized viewer.”
But even if USFK personnel buy the satellite service, they won’t receive the Korea-produced information and news alerts in the near future.
That localized information is inserted locally in South Korea, and will be available only to the on-base cable customers and those grabbing the over-the-air signal for at least “a few more months,” Lawhorn said.
But under a new system, the local information eventually will be broadcast to the satellite dish subscribers off base.
AFN officials in Japan told Stars and Stripes during a recent interview that the lack of local information was “identified as a force-protection issue” and a plan was launched to provide that service to those customers.
Childress said USFK has developed a number of redundant command information systems to help facilitate the flow of information to the community, from commander Gen. B.B. Bell’s community messages and the USFK Web site (www.usfk.mil/USFK/index.html), to radio announcements and, if needed, telephone recalls.
***** sidebar text *****
USFK has no plans for free dishes
SEOUL — There is no current plan to offer AFN satellite dishes and decoders free of charge to the U.S. military community, as is done in Japan, officials said.
“I don’t think there’s any money available now,” said U.S. Forces Korea spokesman Col. Franklin Childress during a recent interview.
The Pacific Command offered about $3.2 million to provide the dishes and decoders to U.S. Forces Japan personnel when the plan was first discussed in 2004, a USFK spokesman has told Stripes.
USFK said at the time that they turned down the PACOM funding because the $3.2 million would have to be shared with U.S. Forces Japan.
And when the offer was first made in 2004, USFK officials have said, the estimated cost to equip and install the system in about 7,000 off-base military households was $4.7 million. The PACOM funding, if split with Japan, would only offer USFK 38 percent of the total cost.
Even after decoder and dish prices dropped, officials said in late 2005 that it would cost about $3 million to outfit the U.S. Forces Korea community.