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It’s official: The Navy will provide free decoders and satellites for Europe-based sailors.

After months of wavering and rumors of deals that were on, then off, the official word has come down: Command Navy Installations has decided to buy the decoders and satellites that will give viewers access to American Forces Network programming, CNI spokeswoman Rachelle Logan said.

The decision was based, in part, on an effort to keep sailors and their families connected to American television, especially sailors serving in Italy who, without decoders and satellites, will lose the ability to get AFN come Jan. 1 when the Italian government takes back the frequency AFN uses.

Currently, sailors who live off base can use an antenna to view one AFN channel. After the new year, they will need a decoder and satellite in order to get any AFN programming.

It’s great news — if a little late for Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeff Massey.

“I just bought one last month for almost $500,” said Massey, assistant operations officer for the Operations Department at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, who arrived in September. “But that’s good news, I think, especially for junior sailors who can’t afford to shell out $500.”

He bought the system for access to news and American sports, especially his beloved Oakland Raiders NFL team, for which he will “stay up late to watch them play — and lose — but I still get to watch them play in real time and that’s a good deal,” he said.

Officials still don’t have details — such as how much the plan will cost CNI, what happens to current decoders, if those who bought them will be reimbursed, or who will get first crack at receiving one of the free systems, Logan said.

“The plan is being worked out,” she said.

AFN provides American television shows, news and sports from the United States through free, over-the-air transmitters placed near bases. Those who live out of the range of the transmitters have to buy or rent a satellite dish and receiver to pick up the programming. With a satellite hookup, viewers can get more than six channels of programming.

Some military members already are getting the decoders on Uncle Sam’s dime. For example, personnel at Aviano Air Base in northern Italy can check out decoders for free, as they do washers and dryers, and the Army bought them for members stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

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