Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More on Net Neutrality and Conceptions of Cyberspace

Speaking as a long-term resident of South Korea, the current national debate in the United States about "net neutrality" seems strangely out of touch with the times. Here in Korea, full access to the internet, as with other digital communications services, is taken for granted as the right of every citizen. If someone were to suggest that this right should be taken away or curtailed, it would be loudly opposed by the majority of "netizens." This was not always the case. History teaches us that South Korea suffered major social problems and lagged behind most other countries of the world in basic telephone services until at least 1980. However, in the 1980s they implemented policies, invested heavily and worked hard to change the situation. The result: Korea has become a beacon for the rest of the world, showing the importance of broadly-based access to broadband internet. To make the point as sharply as possible, South Korea ended its debate about "net neutrality" over a quarter century ago. The networks they built then were electronically switched, with fiber optic backbones, and were not considered completed until they had reached a majority of the farming and fishing villages that characterize rural Korea. For information on what "net neutrality" means in the current U.S. debate, one can turn to Google. They have published a Guide to Net Neutrality for Google Users. There are many other sources of information about this issue, some of which will be mentioned and linked in future posts. However, at this point in time it would appear that the United States is experiencing a profound failure of telecommunications policy. By deferring to the private sector, led by the likes of Comcast, the United States is falling behind many other countries in the development of this century's "information society." In the emerging information age, those nations that invest in the free access to and free flow of information will benefit.

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