Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Network Neutrality Debate Sharpens in Korea

As readers of this blog will know, the network neutrality debate seemed irrelevant to South Korea's situation for many years now. I've published several posts on this topic. One of them, back in 2008, suggested that the network neutrality debate in the U.S., seen from the perspective of a resident of South Korea, seemed out of touch with the times.  Another post, in 2010, elaborated on the earlier one.
Today, an update seems appropriate, primarily because of the surging increase in use of data services here in South Korea following arrival of the iPhone in late 2009, and Android devices the following year.   A report in the Korea Joongang Daily questions whether the network neutrality principle is now at risk in Korea.
As reported in the article, Korea’s telecom companies claim they are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain network neutrality, or the principle that Internet service operators should not discriminate between Internet traffic.According to sources in the industry, SK Telecom, KT and LG U+ - the country’s three telecom companies - recently delivered an official document to the Korea Telecommunications Operators Association (KTOA). The document stated their belief that smart TV makers and Web portals should be charged according to usage. “We have reached an agreement demanding payment for how much they use the networks, and [in return] we take charge of the network operations and quality management,” a source said. The KTOA was expected to officially comment on the matter soon.Companies already pay to use the networks, even with the current system, but the charges are lower and levied without discrimination based on usage. This means that a corporation that eats up 100 gigabytes and a personal user that requires only 1 percent as much data pay identical fees. And this was precisely what the telecom firms were complaining about. The full article is worth reading and the issue is definitely worth following.


  1. From a legal perspective, I think one of the major differences btw U.S. and S.K. is, S.K does not need to worry about legislating another common carrier law. Korean telcos all are classified as common carriers according to electronic communication basic law (전기통신사업법) and even VoIP is treated as part of their common carrier obligation (기간통신역무). It means Korean telcos are legally not allowed to discriminate traffic by the means of contents analysis (내용 심의) as that's against fair competition law (공정거래법).

    1. Thanks for your comment with the helpful background and especially for the specific references to Korean laws. I wonder now about the legal basis of the recent ruling by the KCC that allows mobile service providers to charge more for VOIP services.

    2. KCC announced (intentionally or unintentionally, it has been spreading in Korean online sphere this week.) their traffic management guideline. It was titled "a guideline for reasonable management and use of telecommunication"(통신망의 합리적 관리 및 이용 기준안". In which, KCC tries to discriminate P2P which was used for online broadcasting and patch downloading purposes as well as contentious illegal file sharing. Online public opinion was outraged by KCC's decision on this and they demanded KCC to be more transparent.

      In addition, legally speaking, Korean telos are not allowed to discriminate VoIP. They are common carriers and Korean common carrier clauses do not give them full authority to discriminate VoIP.