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SEOUL — The company that provides personal Internet service to the U.S. military in South Korea said Friday it cannot offer customers cheap calls via computer to the United States until it has a new Army and Air Force Exchange Service contract.

LG DACOM spokeswoman Huh Mie-hea said her company plans to offer what’s called a VoIP — Voice Over Internet Protocol — service and has even reached an informal agreement with AAFES on terms of the service.

But, she added, her company can’t move forward without the signed contract, which she expects “any day now.”

Friday was the first day U.S. Forces Korea personnel were banned from signing new contracts with U.S.-based companies such as Vonage and Lingo. Newly arriving personnel or anyone who didn’t sign with a U.S. company by Thursday’s deadline will be required to use South Korean companies.

The issue came to light in June 2006 when South Korea’s major Internet providers said they intended to block calls made with U.S. companies not registered under the Korean Telecommunications Business Act.

The companies agreed to delay the move until Friday after U.S. Forces Korea commander Gen. B.B. Bell said it would hurt servicemember’s quality of life.

USFK and the South Korean companies agreed earlier this year that U.S. contracts through May 31 would not be blocked and everything after June 1 would require use of South Korean companies.

During a phone interview Friday evening, Huh said the proposed LG DACOM service would offer unlimited U.S. calls for $34.99 a month.

It will not offer what many say is one of the most popular aspects of the U.S.-based service: a “local” stateside number. The U.S. companies allow customers to pick a U.S. number and many choose the same area code as friends and family, which allows people in the States to call their number at local rates.

Huh said that under the LG DACOM plan, people calling from the States to South Korea must pay international rates because it’s illegal for the South Korean company to issue U.S. phone numbers.

Customers will have a variety of payment options ranging from paying in cash monthly to paying with a credit card, Huh said.

Okinawa-based AAFES spokesmen were unavailable for comment Friday.

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