Gen. Bell: NFL games should be on free AFN in Korea
YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — The top commander in South Korea wants NFL football back on the only free American Forces Network channel on the peninsula, he said during an Area II command visit on Thursday.
It’s not appropriate to tell a U.S. troop who “just got his ass shot off” while deployed to fight the war on terrorism that he can’t watch National Football League games for free because South Korean cable companies pirate the signal, said U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell.
American Forces Radio and Television Service officials decided to not broadcast NFL games this season on the Prime Pacific channel, which is sent openly over the airwaves in South Korea, because it could affect broadcast-rights negotiations, officials said earlier this week. More than 50 South Korean cable companies illegally pirate the signal and sell it to the public as part of their service, the officials said.
Instead, the games are to be broadcast on other AFRTS channels that require use of a satellite dish for off-base residents or cable service for those residing on base. The dish costs about $80 and the monthly decoder rental is $25 through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. On-base cable is $27 a month.
AFRTS sends Prime Pacific to South Korea, where AFN personnel insert local command information before re-broadcasting it as Prime Pacific-Korea.
That programming is broadcast openly so the military community can monitor the channel for emergency information without having to use a satellite dish, if off base, or to purchase on-base cable service.
When Bell addressed the issue during his Area II visit early Thursday morning, members of his staff assured him that U.S. 8th Army commander Lt. Gen. David P. Valcourt was working on the issue with AFRTS.
An 8th Army spokesman was unable to offer what, if any, progress Valcourt had made with the issue on Thursday.
“Currently that matter is under review,” 8th Army spokesman Maj. Jerome Pionk responded by e-mail. He directed additional queries back to USFK.
During an interview later in the day, Bell called the issue a “big problem.” He said he needed additional details before making a decision on what to do.
“My gut feeling is we’re going to turn the service back on and then phase it out” gradually so the community has adequate time to prepare, he said.
“If we’re going to cut their service off for good and proper reason, and have them purchase service through another medium, we ought to give them advance notice,” Bell said. “Months … so they can make their plans and accommodate the change.”
Lt. Col. Michael T. Lawhorn, commander of American Forces Network-Korea, said Thursday that Prime Pacific will broadcast some games, including the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl.
One football fan, civilian employee John Mores, wrote to Stars and Stripes about losing the weekly NFL games and the cost of installing the satellite dish. He said the issue “touched a raw nerve.”
“Can’t someone punish the cable companies that steal the signal instead of punishing the customer?” Mores wrote.
He said the cost of mounting a dish at an off-base apartment starts at about $100 but if the apartment building already has a main satellite dish, as his does, he would have to pay a contractor $250.
“Talk about piracy!" he wrote. “I’m a football fan but I refuse to pay for the outlandish installation charge.”
AAFES officials said they provide contact information for private contractors who install the dishes but do not endorse any companies or comment on their prices.
“We just provide the information and let the customer decide to do it themselves, or get someone to install it for them," AAFES spokesman Master Sgt. Donovan Potter responded via e-mail on Thursday.