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YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — The Department of Defense has ended a two-year restriction on Americable from seeking new business with the government, a move that injects a fresh wrinkle into the unfolding cable TV and Internet drama at Yokota.

Still to be seen, however, is whether Americable will remain on base after its contract expires this fall and what kinds of service gaps might occur until a new provider comes aboard.

Americable announced last week that DOD terminated the company’s “debarment” from seeking new business with the government.

The company’s 10-year contract with Yokota ends Oct. 25, and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service has been searching for a contractor who can integrate cable television, telephone and Internet into a “triple play” package.

The base and AAFES said last month they hoped to locate a new provider by early September.

James Smith, president and CEO of Americable International, told Stars and Stripes in a Wednesday telephone interview from San Diego that his company reached an “administrative agreement” with DOD to have the debarment lifted but declined to discuss his company’s options for remaining here.

“Americable is thrilled to have the debarment lifted,” he said. “We hope it opens possibilities for continued service at Yokota.”

The cable television and broadband Internet provider received a six-month extension in April. Another extension might at least patch up a looming gap in cable TV service after Americable’s scheduled departure.

Americable had been banned from competing for new DOD business after a federal jury convicted the former comptroller of Americable International and other affiliated cable television companies on 72 counts of fraud and money laundering in September 2004.

Asked about the latest development, Capt. Warren Comer, a 374th Airlift Wing spokesman, citing sensitive contracting issues, said Tuesday the base can’t discuss anything about the situation until a new franchise agreement and contract is awarded.

An AAFES Pacific regional spokesman on Okinawa had no comment.

On its Web site, Allied Telesis Holdings K.K. — headquartered in Tokyo — announced in a July 6 news release it had reached a 15-year agreement with AAFES to provide network infrastructure, equipment and content for integrated video, voice and data services at Yokota. Preparations for the design and installation of fiber-optic infrastructure would begin once a contract was signed, it stated.

If Americable leaves in October and the next provider doesn’t immediately follow with continuity of service, the company has said it would have to return the base to a 1996 service level with no Internet and 17 television channels.

Col. Scott Goodwin, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, addressed the cable, telephone and Internet issue after receiving a recent e-mail from a concerned resident on Yokota’s “Action Line.” The letter and his response were published in the Aug. 25 edition of the Fuji Flyer, the base newspaper.

He expressed a desire to minimize the effect of a possible gap in cable service, writing that Yokota officials sought another waiver to extend Americable’s contract “but found little support for that.”

“The ideal solution of a seamless transition was only possible if Americable and the prospective new provider could reach an agreement on the transfer of infrastructure. Much to our disappointment, that has not happened,” Goodwin wrote.

He also wrote the base would experience “reduced cable service for a period of several months” until the new contractor can go online in early 2007.

“Base residents will receive, free of charge, all the current Armed Forces Network programming as well as a handful of Japanese commercial stations,” his letter states. “Channels over and above that will not be available until the new provider is up and running.”

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