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While military families in Japan are anticipating free American Forces Network services, servicemembers in South Korea will still have to rent special decoders for $25 a month to get all of the American-based television shows.

The only off-base homes in the Pacific region not receiving the equipment through a U.S. Pacific Command initiative are in South Korea, said Andy Friedrich, American Forces Radio and Television Service deputy director. PACOM, he said, gave about $3.2 million to cover off-base military households in Japan — and another $300,000 to pay for houses scattered throughout the Pacific basin, in places such as Hong Kong and Australia.

Friedrich said PACOM has pledged to make funds available for the equipment, but so far U.S. Forces Korea has declined the offer.

“They haven’t told us or anyone else why they’re not interested,” Friedrich said.

But USFK spokesman David Oten said the command turned away the PACOM funds because it was told the $3.2 million would have to be shared with Japan. When the original offer was made in 2004, Oten said, the estimated cost to equip and install a decoder and satellite receiver in 7,000 off-base military households throughout South Korea was $4.7 million. Splitting the money with Japan would allow USFK to meet about 38 percent of the need at the time, he said.

“There was no way to make it up out of local resources, and we were not going to do a partial issue,” he said. “We didn’t want someone waiting forever for a dish … or creating two classes of people — people with dishes, people without dishes.”

Prices for the decoder and dish have since gone down, Oten said, and now military officials in South Korea estimate it would cost about $3 million to outfit the 7,000 households.

“We’re completely open to fielding the dishes in the future as the resources become available,” he said.

PACOM spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jason Salata said PACOM originally offered the entire $3.2 million from fiscal 2005 money to USFK for the program, since the command had their request for funding in first.

“They did decline it,” he said. “We then gave the money to Japan.”

In South Korea customers must rent, rather than buy the service. According to AAFES, customers with ration cards are eligible to rent the decoders and buy the satellite dishes from Post Exchange stores. The dish costs $83.95 at the PX store at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul; a bracket to attach it costs another $9.97.

The decoder costs $25 a month, and the purchaser must use a “military star card” credit card to pay for the fee.

“That’s not right,” said Jay Johnson, a military contractor and former servicemember who has lived in South Korea for seven years.

Johnson and his wife have rented a decoder for three years to get American Forces Network channels. Neither of them speak Korean, and Johnson wants AFN for the extra sports channels.

That rental fee, however, doesn’t always cover all service calls, according to Johnson. Last spring when an AFN signal went awry, Johnson learned he would have to pay to have it fixed. He finally reset it himself after trial and error that took days.

“If there was another alternative, especially that would let me get sports, I would definitely go with that,” he said.

There is one way around the decoder system, at least for those people living off-base in Seoul who happen to subscribe to a South Korean cable system. Yongsan Cable company includes the AFN prime channel in its basic line-up, according to the cable company.

With the Yongsan company, basic cable starts at just over $4 a month.

Reporters Hwang Hae-rym, Teri Weaver, Leo Shane and Jennifer Svan contributed to this story.


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