Monday, May 31, 2010

iPhoreigner [revised]

[above: Caption this picture. I thought of a few, but they're all kinda offensive.]

Apparently KT has been listening to all the complaints from foreign nationals who had difficulty connecting to the Borg getting an iPhone in Korea. According to the Korea Times (the other KT), Korea Telecom will rewrite the iPhone contracts to make it easier for some of those who are not ROK nationals or holders of something resembling permanent residency to get them:
KT, the country's second-largest mobile-phone carrier after SK Telecom, announced a set of measures Sunday to make its handsets more affordable and accessible to non-Korean users.

The company's revised service plans for foreigners include lowered visa barriers for registering phones and larger flexibility in phone installment and monthly payment plans. KT will also increase its number of multi-lingual stores in Seoul, where questions can be fielded in English, Chinese, Japanese and other languages.

"The idea is to allow foreign nationals to subscribe to our telecommunications services on the same conditions as Koreans," said Jin Byung-gwon, a KT spokesman.

"The specialized stores for foreigners will be first established in districts such as Itaewon and Gwanghwamun and areas around colleges, such as Kyung Hee University, which are known for their large number of foreign residents. The stores will be introduced in other metropolitan cities and also in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province, which has a large foreign community."

Previously, foreign nationals with F-2, F-4 or F-5 visas, which are issued to those with Korean "blood" heritage, or people married to a Korean national or granted permanent residential status, were able to sign the conventional two-year contracts for iPhones and other mobile phones.

Foreign residents with other types of visas could only get the phones on one-year contracts and also had to buy the handsets upfront and not in monthly installments, which was a strain on their wallets.
Basically, the plans that allowed for the iPhone to be paid for over a period of two years in a way that made it extremely cheap up front were not available to those without citizenship or something resembling permanent residency. KT has now fixed that so that some contract visa workers (e.g., those on certain kinds of E-series visas but not E2 visa holders yet) and student visa holders can enjoy those same benefits.

And now that some of the formerly vanquished have emerged victorious in their fight against The (Korean) Man™, I'm sure they'll take up the mantle for those foreign nationals in, say, the United States who have the exact same problem. Right? Right?!

[crickets chirping]

I dropped the ball a bit on this one (see first and third comments below) and have tried to fix it by adding the highlighted portions and taking out the strikethru portions.

The failure to find a way to allow E2 visa holders — among the most vocal in the international community — to take advantage of the subsidies allowed by the two-year contracts puts us right back at square one.


  1. If you read the full article on the Korean Times website, you might notice E-2 visas holders are not on the list of people "helped" under this program. Wonder if it was just written incorrectly by the KT or if it's just a continuation of the problem for E-2 visa holders.

  2. I don't understand the need for a cell phone with a monthly bill when you can purchase an ipod touch and set it up to make and receive free calls before leaving the states while traveling anywhere in the world (where you have wi-fi access) with a couple of free software downloads.

  3. Canadian Bacon, that was sloppy of me. Very sloppy. I read "educators" and assumed that it was including E2's and not just E1's.

    Also, it doesn't include student visa holders either.

    Clearly what needs to happen is for an organization like ATEK to get on this, trying to find a workaround whereby the "guarantor" status of one's 신원보증 can be used (with the visa sponsor's permission?), but that might distract from all the "human rights abuse" campaigns they've been doing. ;)

    It looks like the international students in Korea are no better off than the students I mentioned.

    But the final point remains the same: for all the bluster about how badly foreigners were being treated in Korea by making them unable to take advantages of the massive subsidies they could get if they were on a two-year contract (Roboseyo thought people should write to Steve Jobs!), the same thing happens in the US with people on temporary visas who are ineligible for a Social Security number.

  4. John, can you elaborate on how to do that? I may want to use my actual iPhone that way when I travel abroad.

    My mom has an iPod Touch I gave her for Christmas, so if we do go to Europe, we might want to do that with her device as well.

  5. Though we look similar enough that people often think we're brothers, the Metropolitician was the one who encouraged people to write to Steve Jobs. :)

  6. Sorry, Roboseyo. My bad.

    In hindsight, the embarrass-Korea-internationally-to-get-what-we-want methodology is more his style than yours (although, I'd be willing to employ it myself for the right issue).

  7. You mean your local ABC affiliate didn't help you to save thousands by not having a cell phone contract?

    How to Call Your iPod Touch And Give It A Phone Number For Free!

    How To: Call on iPod Touch and How to Call Your iPod Touch

    Personally, I went with Google Voice, but you need an invite (I've used up all mine) and to be located in the U.S. to set it up.

  8. I have a really simple solution for this whole situation. If KT is so worried that foreigners will leave before the contract is finished, they can ask the foreigner to give a deposit, the same price as the phone would be. If the foreigner can complete two year contract, the money would be returned. KT has their security, the foreigner is eligible for the same subsidy (thought it's given later), and everyone can be happy, right? Pipe dreams, eh?

  9. I think something like that could be worked out. But like I said, an organization like ATEK should be on it.

    If KT is so worried that foreigners will leave before the contract is finished,

    You know why they worry about this? Because no small number of foreigners really do this stuff. Phone bills, electric bills, gas bills, etc. I have seen it first hand, and as a landlord, it worries me as well.

  10. I understand that there are some dubious foreigners here that leave without paying up any outstanding bills. However, if KT has money up front and would return the amount that is subsidizes for Koreans *if* completion of the contract, it's a win-win situation - more subscribers for KT and foreigners get equal treatment.

  11. If it were a choice between your solution and not getting an iPhone, I'd be totally onboard with that idea.

    But the the subsidies, as I understand them, are a bit fuzzy, made with assumptions of a certain amount of phone usage that on average comes about over the course of two years, but not always so.

    I think because of that, KT would rather not have to put a specific price tag on the actual subsidy, which would make them less inclined to do it this way. But maybe they would be willing to do it, but the calculation (how many months are left on your visa, etc.) gets a bit complicated.

    I'm not trying to excuse KT, just saying they might find it more trouble than it's worth. On the other hand, if LG had gotten the contract instead, I think they would have made sure there was a way to do this (LG, the company that has been offering English-language service for most of the past decade, plus various plans for foreign nationals to get phones on their own without "help" from a cosigner or having to get a disposable phone).


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