By Cho Mu-hyun
Mobile carriers have been criticized over recent data that suggests they have been charging consumers for more text messages than they actually send.
According to a report by the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) sent to Saenuri Party member and national assemblyman Kim Gi-hyeon, Wednesday, the total number of text messages provided to consumers via a fixed-rate contract by SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus was 49.4 billion in the first half of the year.
However, customers sent 22.5 billion texts, with the monetary value of unused text messages calculated at around 360 billion won ($323 million).
The three carriers offer a fixed rate that includes text messages, voice calls and data usage without giving customers choice in how much they want to use on each form of communication.
“There must be a new rate that transfers left-over text messages to voice calls or data,” said Kim. According to the national assemblyman, since third generation (3G) wide-band code division multiple access (WCDMA) was implemented here in 2003, the international standard for text message memory has increased from 80 to 140 bytes.
He went on to assert that telecommunications companies have not followed this standard and kept text messages at 80 bytes to gain more profits (text messages here are charged per unit), and have reaped an underserved 100 billion won since 2007.
Mobile carriers deny the allegations, saying that the assemblyman misunderstood the concept of fixed rates altogether.
“The reason why we offer text messages, voice calls and data in a package at a fixed rate is to give consumers a total discount,” said an SK Telecom representative. He went on to add that fixed rates actually have an average discount of 30 percent compared with per-use contracts.
KT adjusted its memory per text to 140 bytes last November to meet international standards.
The use of text messages is in rapid decline due to the wide spread of touch-screen devices that offer other communication mediums such as mobile messengers including Kakao Talk and Line, which are free.
“Such a mechanical calculation of the numbers is unreasonable. Besides, a single text message costs some 20 won and is comparably cheaper than data or voice calls,” said an industry official requesting anonymity. He went on to describe the data’s credibility as “ridiculous.”
“This is part of politicians’ strategy to gain attention because the presidential election is approaching, which is to be expected and there will be more moves to come. I truly wonder whether any of them have an understanding of the telecommunications industry or consulted an expert before releasing these rash statements and allegations,” he added.
Another industry official was more careful in explaining his view: “Though the assemblyman’s request that rates should follow a global consensus is not unreasonable, he must also understand that policies are slow to be implemented and everything will be done in due time.”