PYEONGTAEK, South Korea — Remember how last Thursday was the last day you could use an American company to sign up for cheap calls to the States over the Internet because South Korean companies on Friday were going to start blocking calls from foreign providers?

All that is on hold for the next three weeks.

U.S. Forces Korea officials and South Korea’s major Internet service firms agreed to postpone the June 1 deadline to June 21 after learning that the Army and Air Force Exchange Service had yet to sign a contract for the service with the South Korean firm that provides personal Internet service to the USFK community.

USFK commander Gen. B.B. Bell announced the postponement through a Saturday “Bell Sends” message posted to the USFK Web site.

The service in question is called VoIP, for voice over Internet protocol. It enables users to call the States at lower cost than if they called over a telephone line.

How troops were getting their VoIP service became a contentious issue last June when South Korea’s major Internet companies warned they would block Internet calls made through providers not registered under the Korean Telecommunications Business Act.

When Bell said that would impair servicemembers’ quality of life, the South Korean firms agreed to hold off on enforcing the act.

But last Friday LG DACOM, the AAFES-contracted Internet provider, said it still had no written contract with AAFES and could not offer VoIP until one was signed.

LG DACOM had reached only an informal agreement with AAFES on terms of service, company spokeswoman Huh Mie-hea said last week. A written contract could be signed “any day now,” she said Friday.

In announcing the extension, Bell noted that “the AAFES review and signing of the LG DACOM VoIP service plan was delayed.”

No VoIP service will be blocked through June 21, he added.

“By 21 June, your local AAFES concessionaires will be providing registered VoIP services that are comparable in price and level of service found with popular US-based providers,” Bell said in his message.

Huh could not be reached for comment Monday and AAFES officials were unable to provide comment by deadline.

On Friday, Huh said LG DACOM will offer unlimited calls to the U.S. for $34.99 a month.

But it will not offer what many deem one of the most popular features of U.S.-based service: a “local” stateside number. U.S.-based firms allow customers to choose a U.S. number, and many choose one in the area code in which their friends and families live. That means people calling South Korea from the States are charged only local calling rates.

Huh said people calling under the LG DACOM plan from the States to South Korea will be charged at international rates because it is illegal for the South Korean company to issue U.S. phone numbers.

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