Sunday, September 19, 2010

Net Neutrality: The View From Korea

More than two years ago I wrote a post for this blog on the topic of "Net Neutrality and Conceptions of Cyberspace."  You'll forgive me for not following all of the twists and turns of that debate in the United States, including failed efforts by the F.C.C., court rulings and the joint statement on net neutrality by Google and Verizon.  You see, living in Seoul, one might as well be on another planet when it comes to debating net neutrality.  Consider the following:
  1. As I noted in my earlier post, something approximating net neutrality was part of South Korea's efforts to build a modern telephone network, starting in 1980.  The experience here with a massive telephone service backlog and the social divisions it exacerbated made the goal of universal, equal service for all Korean citizens a non-debatable issue.   From the beginning, Korea set out to build an "information welfare society" (정보복지사회) in which services and the tolls charged for them would be the same for residents of farming and fishing villages as for the residents of Seoul.
  2. Korea never let up on its commitment to building and improving network infrastructure.  When U.S. Vice President Al Gore spoke about the importance of "information superhighways" in a 1994 speech at UCLA, the Korean government picked up on that terminology and implemented the Korea Information Infrastructure project in 1995, which gave it some of the world's most advanced fixed broadband networks in the world within a decade.  Also in the 1990s Korea became the first nation in the world to commercialize CDMA for mobile telephony, giving consumers here the potential to access broadband internet while on the move.
  3. As readers of this blog will know, actual use of mobile data services in South Korea remained very low (around 10 percent of mobile phone subscribers) until the arrival of Apple's iPhone in late 2009 and the shock it created.  Unlike the U.S. where AT&T's networks at first could not handle the data traffic generated by iPhone users, Korea had mobile networks in place with plenty of excess capacity and the big debate here in 2008 and 2009 was about how to increase consumer's use of mobile broadband services!
  4. Korean citizens today not only enjoy uniform rates for roughly equivalent services nationwide, but they also have developed some of the world’s highest standards for service. Most installation of telephone, broadband internet or other communication service is done on a same day basis.If problems arise with consumer electronics products, after-service (AS) is very efficient.  In response to high consumer expectations for after-service, Apple has had to revise and upgrade its AS policies here.
  5. In short, from the vantage point of someone living in South Korea, the net neutrality debate that is so heated these days in the United States seems misdirected.  If the U.S. had, like Korea, made a long term and consistent commitment to building information and communication infrastructure, along with citizen awareness of how to use these resources, the situation might be entirely different. Indeed, the general direction of ICT technology continues to be toward greater computing and communications capacity at lower costs. This basic trend, as expressed in Moore's Law, is at the heart of the information revolution. Consequently, the longer term prospect all over the world, is for an information culture in which information flows freely and abundantly, without restriction for lack of vision, commercial greed or whatever other reasons might be given.
I'd like to challenge readers to point out what, if anything, is wrong with this picture.   Enjoy.

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