IWAKUNI MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Japan — When something is free, you often get what you pay for, but when it’s also good … now, there’s a bargain.

By those criteria, Iwakuni residents say, the base’s cable television system appears to be a pretty good deal.

The system previously was able to broadcast 46 channels, but most were unused. Offerings were limited to typical Armed Forces Network programming, command information and a few local Japanese channels.

In June 2000, base residents had just 19 cable channels from which to choose. Now 41 are offered and a handful of others are being considered, said Gunnery Sgt. Robert Perry, Iwakuni’s television maintenance officer in charge.

The change came after residents asked for cable offerings more closely resembling what’s available in the States. The air station then studied, debated and negotiated possible commercial cable TV options.

Col. David Darrah, air station commander, decided last year that the latest cable TV contract offer from AmeriCable, which provides cable TV at other military installations in the Pacific, was “a deal we could refuse.”

So instead of using a commercial company to install a new infrastructure and charge monthly fees to households using various cable TV options, the base decided to expand the system already in place.

Most importantly, officials said, Iwakuni’s updated TV cable system provides command channels that can be used to disseminate information quickly and effectively to the 5,500 base personnel, especially in emergencies.

“When I got here, I was surprised that the base had so many channels in English,” said Jamie Wurdinger, wife of Staff Sgt. Brian Wurdinger of Marine Air Logistics Squadron 12.

“We moved here in June, and I thought it would be like it was when my husband was stationed in Okinawa about 10 years ago. Back then, it was very limited, but that’s what I expected.”

Each year, about $100,000 from the air station’s Operations and Maintenance Fund is used to keep the system working. Roughly $108,000 per year is spent for subscriptions to various channels. Several rebroadcasts in Iwakuni are free.

Linking to the subscription channels is fairly simple.

“Our contracting office makes a contract with the channel provider, and the necessary equipment is purchased,” Sammons said. “Then, we set up our equipment to receive that particular satellite signal.”

Because the base cable TV service is free, the base received discounted subscription rates, explained Perry.

“Most complaints come from people who have just arrived here from the States, where they are used to about 150 channels,” Perry said. “They say, ‘Oh my God! Only 40 channels!’ But for over here, I think it’s a pretty good selection.”

Included now is a command channel, the base weather channel, all AFN channels and a program guide, eight local Japanese channels, Star Sports, Nickelodeon, Discovery, Marine Corps Community Services TV, MCTV, MTV Southeast Asia, MTV China, Fashion TV, CNBC Asia, BBC World, EWTN (a Catholic channel), TBN (religious programming), Network of the World, ABC Asia Pacific, MCN, ACN, Cable Cinema Network, Cinexus, Cinema Network TV and Cinema TV. The system also offers several FM radio channels.

Residents had input in the menu of channels.

“There was an e-mail survey conducted during September 2002” for residents to choose which channels they wanted, Sammons said. “Of those channels, Star Movies, Star World, National Geographic, Viva Cinema, Nickelodeon and Discovery were selected.

“This lineup provided something for everyone. The children enjoy Nickelodeon, and the movie channels and educational programming are suitable for all ages. We will continue to work with the cable program and fine-tune it for our residents.”

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