|From: Sam Citron||4/13/2009 2:21:08 PM|
|Will Mobile Web Become More Affordable?|
Mobile-phone carriers are looking to make data services more affordable.
/ Korea Times File
By Kim Tong-hyung
The mobile Web is here, but the paucity of excitement is evident among wireless users who are reluctant to pay premiums for services they rate as dull and patchy.
Maybe it's time to give the unused hotkeys another look, however, as mobile telephony operators, desperate to hit the data goldmine, are finally showing real commitment in making portable Web browsing more affordable.
In a news conference last week, SK Telecom, which controls more than half of the country's wireless market, said it will be announcing new flat-rate plans for its mobile Internet services sometime around June.
This will allow SK Telecom customers to pay a single monthly charge for all their data transfers, with no separate counting of minutes, content or megabytes of downloads.
In rolling out its new data rates, the company is trying to steal the thunder of its industry archrival, KTF, which is looking to expand the package of content available to users of its flat-rate plan, which charges 10,000 won (about $7.5) per month.
Although SK Telecom has yet to decide on the specifics, the new flat-rate program, which promises unlimited data usage, will charge users between 20,000 and 30,000 won per month.
LG Telecom, the smallest of the three mobile carriers, which has a 6,000-won flat-rate plan for its ``Oz'' data services, is also planning to introduce new rate plans as early as next month.
Consumers have been lukewarm about the previous flat-rate plans provided by the companies, with their monthly data allowances drying up after posting a few blog posts or trotting around a few Web pages. And the flat rates only cover browsing activities; subscribers still have to pay separately for downloaded content.
SK Telecom currently provides a monthly plan that allows users to use about 33 megabytes for 10,000 won, while KTF provides 8.4 megabytes at the same rate.
SK Telecom's new flat rate will quash such cynicism, according to Oh Se-hyun, who heads the company's convergence and Internet business division.
``The problem now is that consumers signed to our 10,000-won flat-rate plans are dumbfounded when they learn they are paying separately for the programs they downloaded, and we intend to eliminate this confusion,'' Oh said.
``Our new flat rates will make things simple, allowing users to access an unlimited amount of content on a fixed charge. Currently, more than 2 million of our subscribers are signed to data flat-rate plans, and we plan to expand this number substantially through the new rates,'' he said.
However, with it simplifying costs and refusing to charge separately for content downloads, it remains to be seen how data revenue and content providers will be affected.
With increasing numbers of wireless users switching to data-enabled handsets, mobile carriers have been hoping for data to have a bigger role in the growth of average revenue per user (ARPU), with voice sales beginning to stall here, a country that has more mobile phones than heads.
However, despite the latest improvement in technology, data services in general remain slow and awkward and have no chance at competing with conventional computer-based services in terms of content, which has critics questioning whether the mobile Web will ever be fully embraced by consumers.
However, price continues to be the biggest problem. Wireless users won't touch the data services with a 10-foot pole when complicated rate plans have them paying separately for content use and data traffic.
Many of those who actually click the track-wheels on their handsets have sworn never to do so again.
During last month's World Baseball Classic (WBC), an international baseball tournament held in the United States in which South Korea finished second, online message boards were smoking with complaints from mobile users who were hitting the roof after receiving bloated bills.
Mobile-phone carriers charge about 2 to 3.5 won per kilobyte, so it takes about 5,000 won (about $3.7) to download a pop song (about 3 megabytes) and about 10,000 won for five minutes of television streamed through data networks.
So many hardcore baseball fans who couldn't resist the urge to watch the games later found themselves paying over 100,000 won in data charges.
The new flat rates introduced by the wireless carriers would make it easier for wireless users to avoid such ``data-bomb'' bills.
Despite the vast improvement in technology, wireless carriers are seeing stunted growth in mobile data revenue, which combined to account for less than 18 percent of their total revenue last year.
SK Telecom's average data revenue per user hovers around 9,000 won (about $6.7) per month, after reaching over 11,000 won in December 2007. KTF is getting about 7,000 won, while the number is around 3,000 won for LG Telecom.
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|From: Paul Kern||5/24/2009 11:13:45 PM|
| Asian Stocks Decline on North Korea Nuclear Test Report|
By Darren Boey
May 25 (Bloomberg) -- Asian stocks fell after Yonhap News reported that North Korea held a nuclear test earlier today. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index fell 0.2 percent to 99.15 as of 11:49 a.m. in Tokyo after earlier climbing 0.8 percent.
Last Updated: May 24, 2009 22:49 EDT
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|From: Paul Kern||8/2/2009 5:29:42 PM|
|Korean Bank Profits Fall as Slump Forces Larger Loan Provisions|
By Bomi Lim
Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Combined profit at Kookmin Bank, South Korea’s largest, and local rivals fell 57 percent in the first half of 2009 as the nation’s economic slump forced them to more than triple provisions against bad loans.
Net income at the 18 lenders fell to 2.8 trillion won ($2.3 billion) in the first six months, from 7.6 trillion won a year earlier, the Financial Supervisory Service said today in an e- mailed statement. Loan-loss reserves jumped to 7.1 trillion won from 2.3 trillion won, the agency said.
Earnings improved from three months earlier in the quarter ended June 30 as growth in bad loans eased, letting banks set aside fewer provisions, the agency said. Asia’s fourth-largest economy expanded at the fastest pace in almost six years in the second quarter, slowing the pace of defaults.
Combined second-quarter profit totaled 2.3 trillion won, almost four times the 600 billion won earned in the first three months of the year, according to the agency. Second-quarter provisions slowed to 2.6 trillion won from 4.5 trillion won in the three months to March.
“There are still uncertainties about whether improvements in company earnings and the global economic recovery will continue,” the financial watchdog agency said. “Banks should continue to strengthen credit-risk management.”
The agency said on July 30 it will tell banks to lower their bad-loan ratios to less than 1 percent by year-end. Non- performing loans accounted for 1.5 percent of total bank lending at the end of June.
Kookmin on July 30 reported a 65 percent drop in second- quarter profit. Earnings fell by 59 percent at Shinhan Bank, an arm of the country’s second-biggest financial group by market value, and by 43 percent at Hana Bank, the fourth-biggest lender.
To contact the reporter on this story: Bomi Lim in Seoul at firstname.lastname@example.org
Last Updated: August 2, 2009 17:00 EDT
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|From: Julius Wong||10/9/2009 7:32:35 AM|
|Gravity Co., Ltd (GRVY)|
Gravity Co., Ltd. engages in developing and distributing online games, as well as in other related businesses principally in the Republic of Korea, the other countries in Asia, North America, South America, and Europe. It offers multiplayer online role playing games, casual online games, mobile games, and animation and character-based merchandise. The company?s principal product includes Ragnarok Online, an action adventure-based multiplayer online role playing game that combines cartoon-like characters, community-oriented themes, and combat features enabling various players to interact with one another. Its other multiplayer online role playing games comprise R.O.S.E. Online, Requiem, and Emil Chronicle Online. The company?s casual online game consists of Pucca Racing, a game play based on classic bike racing. It also licenses the merchandizing rights of character-related products based on its online games. In addition, the company provides the animation series of Ragnarok Online in DVD and video on demand formats, as well as broadcasts these series on televisions. Additionally, the company, along with its licensees, markets dolls, stationery, and other character-based merchandise, as well as game manuals, monthly magazines, and other publications. The company was founded in 2000 and is based in Seoul, Korea. Gravity Co., Ltd. operates as a subsidiary of GungHo Online Entertainment, Inc.
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|From: Sam Citron||1/5/2010 12:14:07 PM|
|South Korea Confronts Open Secret of Abortion [NYT]|
By CHOE SANG-HUN
SEOUL — Displaying images of fetuses on her computer screen, Dr. Choi Anna described what happens to them during an abortion. For years, she said, she washed her hands in contrition after each one she performed.
Her colleague, Dr. Shim Sang-duk, said that, until it halted the practice in September, their Ion Women’s Clinic in Seoul did 30 abortions a month, twice the number of babies delivered there. Nearly all were illegal.
“We sold our soul for money,” said Dr. Choi. “Abortion was an easy way to make money.”
In a country where abortion is both widespread and, with few exceptions, against the law, Dr. Choi and Dr. Shim are hoping to force South Korea’s first serious public discussion of the ethics of the procedure. In November, they and dozens of other obstetricians held a news conference to ask “forgiveness” for having performed illegal abortions.
The group they formed, Gynob, has called on other doctors to declare whether they have performed illegal abortions. In December they set up another organization, Pro-Life Doctors, which tries to discourage women from having abortions and runs a hot line to report clinics that perform them illegally. This month, they plan to begin reporting practitioners of such abortions to the police.
While Gynob’s primary tactic has been to highlight the hypocrisy of having a law that is almost never enforced, the group’s goal is not to resolve this by liberalizing the law but to end abortions altogether.
“Abortion is murder,” said Dr. Park Sung-chul, an obstetrician and Gynob member.
Gynob’s morality-based campaign is unusual for South Korea, where abortion carries little of the emotional or religious significance that it does in many Western countries.
“Abortion has never become a hot issue here because the society considers it a family issue, and there is a strong taboo against discussing a family matter in public,” said Hahm In-hee, a professor of family sociology at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul.
Gynob has support from Christian activists, but the group says its motivations are not religious and that it has non-Christian members. And while some feminists and Roman Catholics have advocated for and against abortion rights, respectively, those efforts have attracted little public attention. Abortion has yet to emerge as a political campaign issue here.
But Gynob’s campaign coincides with a public reassessment of abortion by the government, which is looking for ways to reverse a decline in the South Korean birthrate.
The country’s Mother and Child Health Law permits abortion only when the mother’s health is in serious danger, or in cases of rape, incest or severe hereditary disorders. It is never allowed after the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Based on insurance data and a government-sponsored study, academic researchers have concluded that those exceptions applied to only about 4 percent of an estimated 340,000 abortions performed in 2005. But that year, only one case of illegal abortion — which, on paper, is punishable by up to a year in prison for the woman and two for the doctor — went to court, according to data that prosecutors submitted to Parliament in October.
For decades, the South Korean government tended to look the other way, seeing a high birthrate as an impediment to economic growth. In the 1970s and ’80s, families with more that two children were denounced as unpatriotic, with official posters in South Korean villages driving the point home. Until the early 1990s, men could be exempted from mandatory army reserve duty if they had vasectomies.
Now, the government has concluded that this policy was too successful.
South Korea’s fertility rate, which stood at 4.5 children per woman in the 1970s, had fallen to 1.19 children by 2008 — one of the lowest in the world. The government fears that the recent financial downturn may have depressed it further, and that the country’s rapidly aging population will undercut the economy’s viability.
In November, President Lee Myung-bak convened a government meeting to call for “bold” steps to increase the nation’s birthrate.
“Even if we don’t intend to hold anyone accountable for all those illegal abortions in the past, we must crack down on them from now on,” Health Minister Jeon Jae-hee said at that meeting.
But Ms. Jeon added that any crackdown should be coupled with an increase in medical fees. The government cap on payments for medical services is thought to have encouraged doctors to perform off-the-books, and potentially far more lucrative, services like illegal abortions.
With fewer women having babies and the government holding down medical fees, many obstetrics clinics are struggling. Some obstetricians have switched to more lucrative skin-care and obesity clinics. To those who remain, abortion — which costs about 400,000 won, or $340, and is paid for in cash up front since it is not covered by insurance — has become “a source of income we find really difficult to give up,” said Dr. Kang Byong-hee, an obstetrician in Paju, north of Seoul.
In addition to government policy and the economics of health care, social factors have contributed to the abortion rate. A bias for boys and against the disabled led to the widespread practice of aborting female fetuses or those with physiological defects, said Choi Sung-jae, a professor of social welfare at Seoul National University. A stigma against unwed mothers, women’s increasing participation in the work force and the high cost of education are also seen as contributing to the trend.
“We see a tendency to have one perfect child and abort the rest,” Dr. Choi said. “We had women demanding an abortion simply because they had taken cold medicine or drunk too much while pregnant.”
Gynob’s anti-abortion campaign is meeting resistance, notably from other doctors.
“We credit them for bringing a widespread but hushed-up social anomaly to the surface, but we can’t go along with their radical tactics,” said Baik Eun-jeong, an obstetrician who runs a clinic in Seoul’s upscale Kangnam district and speaks for the Korean Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The association, which claims 4,000 members, says that a sudden crackdown that does not address the causes of abortion will only cause greater problems.
“More women will now go abroad for abortion,“ Dr. Baik said. “Illegal abortions will go deeper underground, causing more medical accidents. There will be more abandoned infants.”
Meanwhile, the government has begun putting out a new message in public service announcements and posters in subways: having more babies is more patriotic. “With abortion, you are aborting the future,” says one such notice.
The latest government budget calls for increased cash bonuses for families with more than two children, and greater financial aid for single mothers in need and vouchers for couples seeking help in fertility clinics.
All these voices are fueling a broader public discussion of abortion as Parliament deliberates revising the Mother and Child Health Law. Said Mr. Lee, the president, at the November meeting: “This is time to start the debate.”
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