SEOUL, South Korea, Oct. 3 (Korea Bizwire) –Internet businesses in South Korea are keeping a close watch as the debate over net neutrality is picking up speed. While attention is being drawn to the possibility of creating online ‘fast tracks’ that allow sponsored content to enjoy faster speeds, there is also expected to be heavy opposition voicing the dangers of unfair competition.
The Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technologies announced last Tuesday that the first session at the 5G communications policy conference primarily discussed net neutrality and zero rating, a system where content providers offers discounts or exemptions for sponsored content.
Net neutrality is the principle that all data transmitted via the internet should not be discriminated by processing speed or cost for using the network. For now, most countries including South Korea have adopted the principle.
Network companies in South Korea are siding with lifting net neutrality as they prepare to introduce 5G networks. Once net neutrality is lifted, internet service providers (ISP), including network companies, will be allowed to raise or lower transfer speeds for certain businesses.
Network companies have argued that portal companies such as Google and Naver have raked in substantial profits at the expense of network companies burdened with making significant capital investments, and have proposed that 5G should see content platforms taking on more of the burden themselves.
In this context, a proposal was made during the conference to allow speed restrictions on content providers with excessive net usage, while offering fast lanes to smaller content providers.
On the other hand, portal companies strongly oppose the idea of lifting net neutrality, fearful of excessive costs. They are already known to have paid considerable sums for network use, including Naver, which paid 73.4 billion won, and Kakao, which paid 30 billion won in 2016.
Cha Jae-pil, Policy Chief at the Korea Internet Corporations Association, said, “Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation has proven that 5G is structured in a way that will only lower the costs borne by network companies,” claiming that “lifting net neutrality will only discourage people from establishing new startups because of the exorbitant network cost.”
Zero rating, too, can be disadvantageous to small enterprises. Experts argue that since most zero rating systems involve an internet provider and a service provider sharing the costs, smaller companies may fall victim since it is harder for them to take on the burden of cost sharing. Another concern is that it may allow the presence of network companies to grow excessively in the content market.
For now, the Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technologies is considering first to implement zero rating and regulate its follow-up effects, as it helps bring down network costs. On net neutrality, however, the ministry has yet to show its hand.
The sentiment to maintain net neutrality also runs deep within the ruling party. Congressman Ahn Jeong-sang, a senior communications expert from the Democratic Party of Korea, said “President Moon once emphasized the importance of net neutrality during his candidacy years,” adding that “lifting net neutrality will only strengthen the monopoly of certain content providers.”
The United States is also facing a setback while leading the race to abolish net neutrality. While it officially abolished net neutrality last June, California passed a bill that restores net neutrality on September 30 to prevent discrimination of services. The bill includes provisions on banning discrimination or blocking of service by internet service providers.
H.M. Kang (firstname.lastname@example.org)