Assembly set to grill telecom firms over subpar network speeds

Assembly set to grill telecom firms over subpar network speeds

CEOs of Korea’s three telecom companies pose with Korea Communications Commission (KCC) Chairman Han Sang-hyuk, second from left, after their meeting at the Korea Press Center in Seoul on Sept. 15. From left are KT CEO Ku Hyeon-mo, Han, SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-ho and LG Uplus CEO Hwang Hyeon-sik. Courtesy of KCC

By Kim Bo-eun

Korea’s three major telecom companies are preparing to face lawmakers next month at this year’s annual National Assembly audit, after another year of consumer complaints of subpar internet speeds.

The Assembly’s sub-committee overseeing information and communications technology plans to question executives of SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus over internet speeds on Oct. 5. KT CEO Ku Hyeon-mo, SK Telecom CEO Park Jung-ho and LG Uplus CEO Hwang Hyeon-sik have been called to appear before the Assembly.

Internet speeds have consistently been cited as a central point for the companies to address. Last year’s audit also highlighted the telecom firms’ lack of investment in network infrastructure and subpar performance of 5G network services. At that time, the companies committed to expanding coverage by increasing investments into base stations that can transmit at 5G speeds.

But another controversy arose this year, ignited by a star YouTuber who claimed the upload and download speeds of his 10 gigabit-per-second internet connection plan was significantly slower than what his service provider KT advertised.

His claim gathered attention, prompting the government to launch an inspection into the three telecom firms’ internet speeds. Consumers have also launched a class action suit against KT.

Korea ranked No. 2 in mobile internet speeds in 2021, according to Speedtest’s Global Index, after the United Arab Emirates. But its ranking for fixed broadband was seventh this year, after Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Romania and Switzerland. Korea’s ranking fell to fourth in 2020 from second in 2019.

The Assembly audit could also question the telecom firms over their plans to establish more base stations.

In 2018, the three mobile carriers submitted plans to set up 45,000 base stations on the 28 gigahertz bandwidth within three years. The 28 gigahertz stations enable faster speeds than the 3.5 gigahertz stations that are used by current services. However, the companies only had 125 of these high-bandwidth stations as of June.

Korea Communications Commission Chairman Han Sang-hyuk asked the companies to expand investments to improve the quality of high-speed internet services.

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