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NAPLES, Italy — Here’s the good news: Navy Region Europe has finished its plan to supply free American Forces Network decoders to Europe-based sailors early next year. Here’s the bad news: Those who already plunked down about $500 to buy their own decoders won’t be reimbursed.

Commander, Navy Region Europe finalized a multimillion-dollar plan to provide its members with free AFN decoders and satellite installation.

The phased-in program will start with those who currently rent AFN decoders from the Navy Exchange. This month, NEX officials will contact decoder renters by mail to close out their contracts, spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Lisa Braun said.

“The use of those decoders will become free of charge beginning January,” Braun said.

Provided the current 722 renters Europewide qualify for free decoders, they’ll be able to keep the machines and will have no interruption of AFN service, she said.

In order to qualify for a free AFN decoder, military or civilian members must be on permanent change of station orders to a CNRE location, have a transportation agreement entitling them to household goods, and must have negotiated their lease for off-base housing through their local housing office, Braun said.

“Basically, if a member can qualify for loaner furnishings, not through any form of waiver, they will be entitled to receive a decoder,” she said.

Only one free decoder per household is allowed. Anyone wanting more than one system will have to buy extras on their own.

And, those who already paid $565 to buy a decoder, instead of renting one, are out $565 and any installation costs.

You win some and you lose some, said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeff Massey, who bought a decoder in October before knowing about the Navy’s plan to supply free ones.

“Oh well. I’m just glad they’ll be doing this, especially for the junior sailors,” said Massey, the assistant operations officer for the Operations Department at Naval Support Activity Naples.

Those who don’t have a rented AFN decoder already and want one can sign up beginning Feb. 1 at their local housing office — and available decoders will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, Jose Mascarenhas, regional housing program director, said in a statement.

The new decoders for off-base leased housing are expected to arrive in March and to be installed by September, Mascarenhas said. The local housing office will set up installation appointments for qualified members, he said.

In all, CNRE has budgeted $3.3 million to buy between 7,000 and 8,000 decoders and pay for off-base installation.

Sailors and families in Italy will not get first crack at the free decoders, even though they will lose the ability to get AFN on Dec. 31, when the Italian government takes back the frequency AFN uses. Currently, sailors who live off base can use an antenna to view one AFN channel.

Nevertheless, Braun said, “There will be only a minimal gap in service for Italy-based sailors who quality.”

The decoders, made by Scientific Atlanta, will give viewers access to AFN Prime Pacific, AFN Prime Atlantic, AFN Prime Korea, AFN News, AFN Sports, AFN Spectrum, Pentagon Channel, AFN Family and AFN Movie.

Anyone with questions is asked to send e-mails to: pao@cnre.navy.mil.

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