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Servicemembers and others living on base can once again watch NFL football games and other programs for free because of two new additions to the on-base free cable service.

The American Forces Network’s Xtra and Atlantic channels have been added to the free cable package, Morale, Welfare and Recreation cable television chief Ron Buss said Friday.

Many servicemembers expressed frustration when the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service removed NFL games from AFN’s Pacific Prime channel, the only free available channel both on and off post.

AFRTS says it removed the games because South Korean cable companies pirate AFN Pacific Prime and showing football games in a market in which the NFL wants to make its own inroads could jeopardize AFRTS’ broadcasting rights.

U.S. Forces Korea officials subsequently met to figure out how to get football games to personnel living off-post but were unavailable Friday to comment on the status of their negotiations.

The talks spurred MWR officials to take action.

“That’s how the idea came up of what we really need to do to get NFL games over on basic services,” said acting MWR director Bill Bryant. “There are a lot of soldiers in the barracks … they’re missing out.”

Through August, MWR had spent $800,000 more in payments for the rights to cable channels than it collected through subscriber fees, Bryant said.

While barracks cable television is subsidized through MWR earnings, MWR officials still had to balance whether moving the channels would affect the bottom line through lost subscriptions.

“In this case, it was the right decision,” Bryant said. “We don’t think it will hurt the subscriber base and it’s something we could do for the troops.”

Although more than 50 South Korean cable companies pirate AFN Pacific Prime, the channel is broadcast openly so the military community can monitor it for emergency information.

USFK personnel living off base who wish to watch AFN channels other than Prime Pacific must pay for satellite equipment. The dish costs about $80 and the monthly decoder rental is $25 through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service. Hiring a contractor to install the dish can cost more than $100, some customers have said.

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