Extra! Korea

January 5, 2010

Why is Korea Telecom reluctant to give iPhones to foreigners?

Filed under: expatriates, technology — extrakorea @ 4:12 pm

You may have read my previous post, “Can foreigners in Korea get an iPhone?”, in which we found out that foreigners, not just ones on F-series visas, but even ones on other types, such as an E-2 (teachers’) visa, can get the iPhone. They need to: a. have a Korean credit card, b. get a one-year plan, and c. pay in cash up front.
So why is KT so reluctant to give iPhones to foreigners? The Joongang Daily mentioned in my previous post said:

[T]he simple fact is that the overdue payment rate for our foreign customers is much, much higher than for locals,” said a KT official who declined to be named. “They [foreigners] are able to leave the country at any time so for us, it is frankly quite a risk to take on foreign customers.”

So we have no specific numbers from a source who insists upon remaining anonymous. It could be a load of nonsense made up to save face and explain away discriminatory practices.
However, the Korea Times now has an article that gets a little more specific.

Although KT officials declined to give out any specific numbers, other industry sources in previous years estimated that around 20 percent of foreign mobile users left the country without paying their final bills.

(emphasis mine)

First, the officials of KT, the only company that we’re concerned with, won’t give out any numbers even though they’ve been pressed. Second, the statistics cited seem to be, given the wording, outdated. What’s the delinquency rate for foreigners these days ? Third, where’s the corresponding delinquency rate for Korean nationals, so that we can have some kind of comparison? If, for example, it’s 10 percent, then people could spin foreigners’ delinquency rates as double for that of Koreans, when in fact it’s only 10 percent more. Lastly, consider the source, the Korea Times, which recently brought us articles about Demi Moore’s hips, an unretouched photo of a a nude person, how to pronounce 2010, a bra for finding a husband, and finally, a flatulent pig.

The chief [of the firefighters] added that the pig got very excited when it all saw the commotion and continue to pass gas and squeal.

“I haven’t heard too many pigs (pass gas) but I would describe it as very full-on,” the chief says.

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7 Comments »

  1. Whether the numbers are there to justify the policy, the likelihood is higher that foreigners will choose not to pay their phone bill when they leave the country never to return. Can you realistically deny it? Most people where I grew up did not believe for a moment that cheating the phone company was a sin that would bar them from heaven once they died.

    It’s a risk that the company does not have to take, so they have decided not to. As you’ve noted, there are avenues available for foreigners to get the service they wish, and those are clearly not designed to make foreigners feel like subhumans,but rather to minimize or eliminate the company’s financial risk. If it’s important enough to you to jump through the hoops,then it looks like you can.

    There are discriminatory practices that have a valid reason – higher insurance rates for drunk drivers and recidivist, the norm speeders back in California where I come from – and then there are discriminatory practices that simply reflect prevalent attitudes of superiority and inferiority. It’s likely true that some Koreans feel they are more entitled than the foreigner who come to work and live here. Getting an iPhone seems like it doesn’t belong in the second category. At least, to me.

    I’d recommend some care when using phrases like “discriminatory practices,” because there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the world under that heading that will make getting the phone you want seem ridiculously trivial. And when you do trivialize discrimination in this way, it insults and trivializes those other,very real and very true instances of it. Anbd that’s not nice at all.

    Comment by thebobster — January 5, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

    • I agree that, in the grand scheme of things, being denied an iPhone is pretty much a trivial matter. What I don’t like is the fact that these companies are alleging that foreigners are more prone to criminal behavior.

      “Whether the numbers are there to justify the policy, the likelihood is higher that foreigners will choose not to pay their phone bill when they leave the country never to return.”

      “Whether the numbers are there to justify the policy …”

      Are you saying that a lack of evidence is unimportant?

      “[T]he likelihood is higher that foreigners will choose not to pay their phone bill when they leave the country never to return.”

      (emphasis mine)

      The phone companies should have statistics on this. So where are they? And if they don’t exist, aren’t we passing sentence before a crime has even been committed, as in the movie “Minority Report”?

      “Most people where I grew up did not believe for a moment that cheating the phone company was a sin that would bar them from heaven once they died.”

      How do we know if this describes most of the expatriates in Korea?

      “There are discriminatory practices that have a valid reason – higher insurance rates for drunk drivers …”

      There is no doubt that drunk drivers cause deaths and damage, so no one disputes that giving them higher insurance rates is justified. But there is doubt that foreigners are as big a flight risk as KT has been saying.

      “I’d recommend some care when using phrases like “discriminatory practices,” because there’s a lot of stuff that goes on in the world under that heading that will make getting the phone you want seem ridiculously trivial.”

      I agree. In my defense, notice that I used the phrase “discriminatory practices” in the upper part of the post, when all we had as a source who insisted on remaining anonymous and refused to give out any statistics.

      “And when you do trivialize discrimination in this way, it insults and trivializes those other,very real and very true instances of it.”

      I don’t think that I am trivializing it, because as I said before, what I really dispute is the notion that foreigners are more prone to criminal behavior, and that that idea can used to justify certain preemptive measures. Today, it’s something trivial, like an iPhone. Tomorrow, it could be something more serious.

      By the way, are you the same “the bobster” who used to post over at Dave’s esl cafe?

      Comment by extrakorea — January 6, 2010 @ 7:01 am

  2. Imagine if companies/business people in the US made similiar statements about Koreans there and treated them in similiar ways.

    “Oh you’re Korean and you only have a green card!? I guess we can’t sell you firearms…sorry.”

    Imagine how Korean nationals would react if they were portrayed in the media of other countries the same way the Koreans portray GI’s, English teachers and any other minority group in Korea. For example, the cartoon of SE Asian men with knives chasing down an inncoent Korean girl.

    Considering the way the Korean media targets minority groups and the way Koreans treat biracial Koreans, is this Iphone thing really a surprise?

    Comment by Fred — January 6, 2010 @ 1:45 pm

  3. Your slippery slope argument is your strongest one, but it does still appear that people who have wanted the iPhone enough have been able to get it, though they had to try a little harder than maybe they ought to have had to. Even if they were denied one, I’m not sure I’d call it “passing sentence before a crime has been committed.” Isn’t that a little extreme? Not being able to get the latest craze in tech goodies is not very comparable to incarceration or any other actual punishment.

    I’m going to take a risk and suggest something that might make you angry: a 24-year recent college grad with massive amounts of student loans to pay off and who just got off the plane, might not be the best credit risk. Such a person is somewhat different from those, such as Michael Hurt and Mr Stafford, who have been here along time … but it’s a little far-fetched to expect the average salesperson manning a kiosk to discern that immediately. (At the very least, processing a foreigner in this way is going to take more time than it would to establish an account for a Korean national, and if the kiosk salespeople are paid on commission it would make sense to discourage the applicant, let some other poor schmuck sort it out.)

    I’m guessing it’s just not cost-effective to run an intl credit check on every foreigner who got off the plane last Tuesday and just might possibly bail out on their contract next Thursday. Is the 20% figure correct? I don’t know either. What surprises me is that the telecom companies don’t simply require the E2 applicants to obtain phones from their employer, the visa sponsor – again, it’s likely more paperwork than the average salesperson wants to do.

    Looking at your original post again, it really seems like you are complaining about the shoddy journalism involved in an anonymous source citing nonexistent stats. You are completely right about that, of course, and it’s good that people are standing up and challenging them on it. The fact that foreign visa-holders can’t be registered on Korean websites (to pre-order the iPhone) is certainly another problem, but it’s a wider one than just this one particular product, and that is something that needs to be objected to, protested, corrected – in my opinion.

    (Haha, instead of asking if I’m some guy at Dave’s esl cafe, why not send him a message over there and ask him if he’s me? )-: )

    Comment by thebobster — January 6, 2010 @ 2:44 pm

    • I basically agree with everything that you said.

      “I’m going to take a risk and suggest something that might make you angry: a 24-year recent college grad with massive amounts of student loans to pay off and who just got off the plane, might not be the best credit risk. Such a person is somewhat different from those, such as Michael Hurt and Mr Stafford, who have been here along time … but it’s a little far-fetched to expect the average salesperson manning a kiosk to discern that immediately. (At the very least, processing a foreigner in this way is going to take more time than it would to establish an account for a Korean national, and if the kiosk salespeople are paid on commission it would make sense to discourage the applicant, let some other poor schmuck sort it out.)”

      Not angry at all. It makes a lot of sense. Maybe foreigners who have been here for a long time can earn a “Good Foreigner” sticker that we can put on our foreheads.

      Comment by extrakorea — January 7, 2010 @ 2:05 am

      • “Maybe foreigners who have been here for a long time can earn a “Good Foreigner” sticker that we can put on our foreheads.”

        You might be going for sarcasm or irony, but it’s not a bad idea in some respects – a different visa category would do it, for instance.

        I’ve learned recently that it IS possible to get an F-2 visa without marriage to a Korean citizen. Difficult, but possible, and it’s something you’d have to no doubt jump through a lot of hoops to get close to, and even then it’s necessary to convince the folks at immi that it’s true. But the regs are in place, and it can happen, from what I understand. I can’t speak from the definitive place of personal experience or even direct connection – friend of a friend, that kind of thing.

        Comment by thebobster — January 7, 2010 @ 2:55 am

      • I was thinking about the “Good Driver” signs that taxi drivers can earn if they are accident-free for a certain number of years.

        Comment by extrakorea — January 7, 2010 @ 3:02 am


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