Koreans Spend Too Much on Mobile Phone Bills

  • By Kim Bong-kee, Byun Hee-won

    February 16, 2023 08:28

    The average phone bill shouldered by each household in the third quarter of last year rose 2.8 percent on-year to W131,000 a month, according to Statistics Korea (US$1=W1,282). That includes mobile phone, landline and internet bills, but the amount is even higher if Netflix and other streaming subscriptions services are added.
    A closer look at the bills of a family shows that the 49-year-old breadwinner spent W70,000 a month, his wife W61,000, his daughter W23,000 and son W19,900. The home internet connection fee including TV and other services costs W13,500, bringing the total to W226,220 a month.
    "I didn't think much of it since they're charged separately along with discounts from the telecom provider," the breadwinner said. "But it all adds up."
    One factor that makes it difficult for people to cut their bills is that service providers prod them to sign up for monthly plans that provide far more data than they actually need.
    According to the Ministry of Science and ICT, the average per-capita 5G data use stood at just 50.4GB per month last December. But the big three telecoms offer no monthly 5G plans for between 40 GB and 100GB.
    SK Telecom offers a "small" package of 24GB for W59,000, which is pointedly not enough, but the next available plan is 110GB for W69,000 a month. KT also offers W30GB for W61,000, but the next option is 110GB for W69,000 a month. LG Uplus offers 31GB for W61,000 a month and then W150GB for W75,000. Unlimited data cost more than W80,000 a month.
    In other words, consumers are deliberately being pushed to buy either small packages for a hefty sum or more data than they can use up.
    Consumers have long been calling for something in between for a reasonable price, but telecoms claim that they need to keep building their 5G networks, which started in 2019. It was not until August last year that they did finally roll out plans for 20GB to 30GB.
    But in a survey of 1,900 people late last year 68 percent of respondents said 20GB to 30GB is not enough. When asked about the ideal mid-range plan, 41 percent said around 40GB of data should be offered.
    Telecoms reaped record operating profits recently. The combined operating profits of SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus last year increased 8.6 percent from 2021 to W4.39 trillion, surpassing W4 trillion for two straight years. Their combined sales reached W56.86 trillion. Analysts attribute the stellar earnings to 5G plans that are significantly more expensive than LTE.
    To pacify a growing uproar, telecoms hurriedly announced Wednesday that they will offer free extra data for the month of March. The amount will vary according to subscription plans and users will be informed of by the end of this month.
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