A spat between American VoIP companies and the South Korean government has threatened to shut down a communications channel between U.S. soldiers and their families. The South Korean Ministry of Information and Communications, their rough equivalent to our FCC, is trying to block and shut down several VoIP services including AT&T CallVantage, Lingo, Skype and Vonage, according to a report published by the Stars and Stripes military newspaper. VoIP is often used by U.S. service members as an inexpensive way of communicating to their families back home.
The Ministry of Information and Communications contends the VoIP companies have been running a de-facto telephone service without applying for the correct permits and complying with the country's Telecommunications Business Act. However, the issue goes a bit deeper than that and as it appaers, it's all about money once again.
The South Korean government, with the backing of major South Korean ISPs like Dacom, Korean Telecom and Hanaro has pushed for the ban because of the flat-rate calling plans offered by their American competitors. Korean companies still charge per minute for VoIP calls, while American VoIP companies have flat-rate plans for as little as $14.99 a month (Vonage Basic 500). The flat-rate plans have been popular for service members who aren't exactly living in luxury while on their military tours.
Last week, VoIP customers inside bases reportedly started receiving notices that they would no longer be able to use their VoIP service. The South Korean government had threatened to cut-off unapproved VoIP service last Saturady, but held off after the U.S. Forces Korea command requested a postponement.
If South Korea eventually succeeds in banning American VoIP companies, service members will be forced to used approved South Korean ISPs, which charge 13 cents per minute for VoIP calls.