July 3, 2006:
The South Korean government held off, at the last moment, on its plan to ban the use of VOIP (phone calls over the Internet) by American troops. Actually, the ban wasn't on VOIP itself, but the flat rate VOIP service (from companies like Vonage and Skype). South Korea, like many countries, sees revenue from long distance phone service as another tax, and they do not want to lose any of that money. To that end, VOIP provided by South Korean companies is not flat rate, and is not much cheaper than regular phone calls. The government does not lose any revenue that way. For several years, however, the government had been allowing U.S. troops in South Korea to use cheaper ($20-30 a month) flat rate VOIP providers from the United States. But recently, the government began to crack down on all these cheap phone via VOIP. If the South Koreans go through with their plan to cut off access to the flat rate VOIP, many U.S. troops, and family members in South Korea, won't be able to call home as much. That will hurt morale, but it will help the South Korean government balance its budget. Military commanders, diplomats and politicians back in the United States are trying to persuade the South Koreans to give American troops a break on the VOIP issue. Although South Korea contributes to the cost of stationing American troops in the country, over the past sixty years, the United States has spent several hundred billion dollars to defend the country from it's heavily armed and aggressive neighbor.