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AFN to drop over-the-air signal in 2 countries

By MARK PATTON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 23, 2010

WIESBADEN, Germany — Some American Forces Network viewers in Germany and Belgium could soon be seeing nothing but static when they turn on the TV.

The Army’s 5th Signal Command, which is responsible for over-the-air TV transmitters that broadcast AFN, plans to turn off over-the-air signal in the two countries starting next month. The change will affect only those who receive the broadcast via a television antenna. Viewers who own AFN decoders will not notice any change, AFN officials say.

The over-the-air transmitters will be shut down in phases. AFN plans to warn viewers by airing commercials two weeks before the transmitters are cut off in those communities.

“If you’re seeing the commercial, it’s going away,” said AFN-Europe’s commander, Col. William Bigelow. “If you’re not seeing it, don’t worry about it.”

People who receive the over-the-air signal are able to view only one channel, AFN Prime Atlantic. AFN officials said most people who receive the over-the-air signal are expats, retirees or local nationals, and AFN officials have no way to track how many people will be affected by the change.

The end to over-the-air TV transmission will save nearly $800,000 a year, according to 5th Signal Command spokesman Lawrence Torres III.

The lone exception to the change is Schweinfurt, Germany, where many troops live in government-leased housing without the built-in cable service that other garrisons provide.

“We’re developing a plan to provide them a service,” said Maj. Paul Haverstick, AFN-Europe operations officer.

With the change, Americans living off post will have to get a decoder and satellite if they still want AFN programming. Decoders can be purchased or rented through Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Satellites are also available at base and post exchanges.

At the Power Zone in Mainz-Kastel, a decoder and satellite will set you back $478. Decoders can also be purchased from other authorized users.

Americans saw the first military TV broadcasts at Ramstein in 1957 through low-powered over-the-air transmitters and terrestrial TV was the sole method used by AFN until 1997, when the network provided additional channels through cable and satellite.

“We’re moving away from that old technology … it’s probably been a long time coming,” Bigelow said.

pattonm@estripes.osd.mil

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