SEOUL — The only major South Korean Internet provider that will block the U.S. military community from using American companies to make cheap long distance calls over the Internet is the one exclusively contracted to provide on-base service.

LG DACOM, which is contracted through the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, will begin blocking new contracts with stateside voice over Internet protocol providers on June 22, per an agreement negotiated with U.S. Forces Korea.

Anyone who signs up with a U.S. company — such as Vonage or Lingo — by June 21, however, will fall under a “grandfather clause” and will be allowed to keep that service.

Officials from South Korea’s two other major Internet providers — Korea Telecom and Hanaro Telecom — said Thursday that they would not block the American companies from doing business with USFK personnel.

Korea Telecom officials added that they don’t even have the capability to block the service.

LG DACOM officials — who directed all queries this week to AAFES — took over the base contract earlier this year after the previous contracted company’s president became embroiled in a bribery case involving AAFES officials. (See story below)

Officials from that former company — Samsung Rental Corp. Ltd, which uses the acronym SSRT — told Stars and Stripes in July 2006 that DACOM officials had sought to ban the U.S. VoIP companies as early as November 2005.

When SSRT told base customers in July 2006 that they no longer would be able use the American VoIP service, USFK Commander Gen. B.B. Bell intervened and was able to delay the blockage.

In early 2007, USFK officials announced that base personnel would have until May 31 to sign up with U.S. companies and that if they hit the deadline, the South Korean Internet providers would not block their service. Anyone who signed up after June 1, however, would be required to use the South Korean service, USFK said.

LG DACOM officials told Stars and Stripes on June 1 that they still had no approved VoIP contract with AAFES.

Two days later, Bell released a message stating that USFK had obtained a three-week extension for its personnel to sign up with American companies while AAFES and LG DACOM completed the contract.

AAFES officials said there was some confusion and that the contract had actually been signed June 2.

On Wednesday, AAFES announced that the LG DACOM premium service — which includes unlimited calls to the United States — would be $34.99 a month but that customers would be required to either pay $10 a month for a phone or buy it for $120. Customers also must use LG’s Internet service, which runs $39.95.

Some of the most popular U.S. companies offer VoIP premium service for $24.99 a month — often with the first month free. Many of the U.S. companies provide free phones and do not dictate which Internet company customers must use. They also provide customers with U.S.-based phone number, meaning friends and family can call a computer in South Korea without paying international rates.

LG DACOM officials have said South Korean law prohibits their company from providing that service and customers are assigned South Korean numbers.

Yongsan customers have VoIP dealer close to Dragon Hill

SEOUL — Members of the U.S. Forces Korea community hoping to buy voice over Internet protocol services from a U.S. company don’t need to go as far as the Internet.

There’s an authorized Vonage dealer about two blocks from Yongsan Garrison’s Dragon Hill Lodge.

Jimmy Park, USKTEL marketing manager and one of three proprietors of the business center concession at the Embassy Club on Yongsan, said buying Vonage services through him might cost a little more than going through a Web site. But he added that customers get the convenience of being able to buy products onsite without having to ship merchandise to a stateside third party because Vonage can’t ship to military addresses.

The monthly premium service and activation fee — $24.99 and $30 respectively — are the same as advertised online. And — just like the online service — customers get the first month for free.

But whereas online customers can choose a free phone, Park’s company charges $105 but offers a $40 rebate.

Park provided Stripes documents showing that he paid import taxes on his merchandise, and that the products are for sale only to members of the U.S. State Department and U.S. Forces Korea communities.

This, he said, puts his services in line with the Korea Telecommunications Business Act.

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