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SEOUL — AAFES no longer will require customers to use its in-house Military Star Card to rent American Forces Network satellite decoder boxes, officials announced Thursday.

Army and Air Force Exchange Service spokesman Master Sgt. Donovan Potter said in a brief e-mail that the stores will accept cash and other types of credit cards as payment beginning Feb. 1. The decoder boxes are required for customers to view AFN’s Direct-to-Home satellite service.

The announcement is timely. The Korean Broadcasting Commission ordered South Korean cable companies to stop broadcasting a pirated AFN Pacific Prime channel by June because U.S. companies complained they were unable to sell their programming to the Korean market.

Since off-base real estate agents offer free cable television as a perk when leasing to renters from the U.S. military community, many residents were able to receive the pirated AFN channel without purchasing the AFN satellite dish, paying to have it installed, and using the Military Star Card to pay the monthly fees.

Even though the Pacific Pri`me signal is still broadcast over the airwaves so U.S. troops within range can pick it up using an antenna, command and AFN officials have stressed that it would be best to use the paid satellite service.

Some people complained about the requirement to use the Star Card, and the issue was brought to the attention of the 8th U.S. Army’s top enlisted soldier, Command Sgt. Maj. Barry Wheeler, during a monthly call-in radio show.

Wheeler promised to address the concern, and 8th Army spokesman Lt. Col. Brodrick Bailey confirmed Thursday that the command sergeant major did follow up with AAFES.

But Bailey said Wheeler wasn’t taking credit for the policy change.

Wheeler was pleased that AAFES met the servicemembers halfway, Bailey said Thursday. He said Wheeler called it a “good decision.”

When Stripes first reported on the issue in November, AAFES officials said the Star Card was required so AAFES could ensure only authorized users were receiving the satellite service, and so AAFES could collect payment from customers who neglected to return the decoder box when canceling the service.

Potter could not be reached Thursday afternoon to discuss how AAFES would now address those concerns for customers without Star Cards.


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