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Hands off my phone

Feb 13,2018
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On Feb. 9, members of civil groups such as the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice and the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy walked out of the household telecommunication expenditure policy committee meeting. They protested that the communication service providers opposed all plans to lower their prices. The meeting ended without bearing fruit. The policy committee’s term will expire on Feb. 22.

The policy committee on household telecommunication expenditure was initiated by the Ministry of Science, Technology and ICT in November and is likely to be recorded as an ambitious attempt that fizzled out. The committee includes 20 members from telecommunication service providers, device manufacturers, experts and civil groups who came together to discuss policy on telecommunication charges and smartphone usage fees.

The government created a social consultation committee to adjust a certain market commodity because the government considers telecommunication services a public good and the Moon Jae-in administration promised to lower telecommunication charges.

But the committee could not unify the positions of the interested parties, which had disagreed for years. It is unconvincing that the committee attempted to resolve the matter, which involves complicated interests, in only three months. Not to mention whether or not it is even valid to look at telecom charges as a public commodity in the first place. The government also seems to have expected this less-than-satisfying result.

The ministry will compile different opinions, whether the committee reaches an agreement or not, and convey them to the National Assembly. Unless something goes wrong, the government wants to push for a revision on the Telecommunications Business Act to introduce a universal rate plan that provides 1 GB of data for 20,000 won ($18) a month. In the course of legislation, the government is likely to argue that the opinions of the industry and consumers were sufficiently collected based on the outcome of the committee, which did not even reach an agreement.

Telecom providers must voluntarily present plans if they do not want to be pressured by civil groups and the government. Most consumers feel burdened by ever-increasing communications costs. Consumers have deep-rooted distrust in providers as their complicated rate plans involve various tricks and schemes, and customers are often dissatisfied with their service.

The government also must consider the ex post reporting system, which encourages competition by voluntarily offering different rate plans rather than having the government approve new rate plans. If the rate plan violates the Fair Trade Act and results in harm to the consumer, the company should be penalized. The government must stop resorting to solving problems only through direct intervention.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 12, Page 29

*The author is an industry news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

HA SEON-YOUNG