Monday, May 16, 2011

"Haves" and "Have-Nots" in Korea's Smartphone Era

Right up until 1980, basic telephone service in South Korea was considered a luxury and the lack of adequate telephone networks had created a major social crisis in the country.  However, beginning in 1980, the country instituted changes designed to build modern networks.   From the very beginning, these networks were considered incomplete until they were equally available to all citizens nationwide, reaching the most remote farming and fishing villages in the nation.   This emphasis on universal service, from the start of construction on Korea's digital networks, is described in detail by Dr. OH, Myung and me in our new book, Digital Development in Korea:  Building an Information Society (Routledge, March 2011).
South Korea's experience with the utter lack of phone service during the 1970s may explain partly why it worked so hard for so long and invested so much to build the worlds most extensive and fastest digital networks.   This meant that, while the debate about "network neutrality" flourished in the U.S. and Europe, not much was heard here in South Korea.  Until the end of 2009, when the Apple iPhone finally arrived, there was an excess of network capacity and major industry players were concerned about how to increase use of data services!
This background explains why I read with great interest the Joongang Daily's article entitled "Haves and have-nots in the Smart Phone Era."  As shown in the accompanying graphic, (click to see full size version) ownership of smartphones in Korea currently has a great deal to do with level of education, financial status and residence location.  This information is based on a 2010 survey, but it is sure to cause concern among senior policymakers here in South Korea.  However, the problem may soon be ameliorated by the rapidly decreasing cost and increasing power of the so-called smart phones.  In the near future, it may be that "haves" and "have-nots" will be distinguished by the cost of the mobile broadband services they can afford, rather than simply smart phone ownership. 

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