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SEOUL — South Korea’s major telecommunications providers on Saturday were to begin blocking many companies that allow computer users to call friends and loved ones via the Internet, U.S. and South Korean officials confirmed Thursday.

Any foreign-based voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, companies “not in compliance with Korea’s Telecommunications Business Act” were to be banned from reaching customers using South Korean Internet service providers, according to an Army and Air Force Exchange Service news release.

That includes about 12,000 customers on U.S. military bases across the peninsula who buy Internet service from AAFES-contracted SSRT Co., Ltd.

Officials at SSRT said Thursday that they purchase Internet time from Dacom, one of the three biggest ISPs in South Korea. Dacom and the other ISPs, Korean Telecom and Hanaro, were supporting Saturday’s ban, according to AAFES.

Sara Kim, an SSRT spokeswoman, said that Dacom has sought to block the VoIP companies since November 2005.

But “we’ve been continuously trying to delay the schedule,” she said via phone Thursday. She said she didn’t know how many of the ISP’s U.S. base subscribers use VoIP, but SSRT has been “getting a lot of hate mail right now” because customers “think we’re blocking it.”

An e-mail from SSRT to its base customers Thursday stressed that the block is “being carried out by the Korean government and the ISP carriers.”

Officials at Dacom said Thursday that some of the most popular U.S. VoIP companies, like Vonage, AT&T CallVantage and Lingo, would be blocked.

Kang Hak-ju, with Dacom’s policy and regulatory affairs team, said that customers should use “legal VoIP service,” instead of companies like Vonage, which doesn’t have an “agreement of doing business in Korea.”

The SSRT e-mail listed the following companies as the only ones authorized to provide the service: Hanaro, Dacom, Onse, Korea Telecom and Anyusernet.

Chief Warrant Officer Micheal Favor, a U.S. soldier on Camp Casey, said Thursday that the South Korean companies are “trying to monopolize the whole thing.”

Favor pays Lingo $22 a month to make unlimited calls to the United States. And, he said, when friends and family from home call him in South Korea, they’re charged at their local call rates as part of Lingo’s service.

He says he’s not alone; he knows at least 30 people on his camp who use the service.

Favor said he doesn’t want to use a more expensive South Korean company. It’s bad enough that he has to pay $40 a month for Internet access, he said.

While each South Korean company has different rates, Korea Telecom officials said Thursday that they offer no set monthly rate or unlimited call specials for its VoIP service. They charge about 13 cents a minute for calls to the States — the same rate they charge for using a normal telephone. And calls from the States to customers here would be billed to the caller at normal international long-distance rates.

The block will not affect messenger or chat programs, officials said.


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