The debate over network neutrality between telecom operators and Internet and content providers is heating up again as the launch of world's first 5G mobile service imminent draws near.
Mobile carriers are insisting that the net neutrality principle be eased so that the huge cost for building 5G networks could be shared among telecom operators, internet service providers (ISPs) and content companies.
On the other hand, ISPs and content producers such as Naver, Kakao and others are saying that the net neutrality principle should be maintained.
Shin Yong-hyun, a lawmaker of the Bareunmirae Party and a member of the Science, Technology, Information and Telecommunications Committee of the National Assembly, held a debate on the issue at the National Assembly on July 19 to discuss the directions of net neutrality policies in the 5G era.
In Korea, President Moon Jae-in virtually expressed his intention to maintain net neutrality by pledging to expand basic network rights. In June, however, the debate was reignited as the United States officially revoked the principle of network neutrality. In particular, the debate is expected to heat up as the three mobile carriers will start commercial 5G services in March of next year.
In the debate, mobile operators and internet companies waged a war of words. "Net neutrality regulations can lead telecom operators to reduce investment in networks," said Ryu Yong, head of a team at the Korea Telecom Operators' Association (KTOA). “Countries around the world are overhauling old regulations to induce telecom operators to invest in 5G and IoT networks. One example is the US abolition of its network neutrality policies.” He said telecom networks have so far been forced to play the role of pipes only, but in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, networks should be regarded as a platform that provide innovative services using slicing technology.
Network slicing is a 5G technology that can divide one network into multiple networks to provide customized services for automobiles, medical purposes, and mobile devices. Network slicing technology can vary service speeds. "If current network neutrality is thoroughly and strictly applied, a contradictory phenomenon will take place – setting the same price for a wide variety of products and services,” Ryu said
In response, Chae Jae-pil, an official of the Korea Internet Companies Association argued that if network neutrality is weakened, small content companies or start-ups would not be able to survive. "Currently, the principle of network neutrality is not clearly defined by law in Korea. Loose regulations in the form of a guideline provide flexibility to telecommunication operators. As a result, Korean internet business companies are paying the highest network use fees in the world."
The government is taking a prudent attitude over the issue. "There are pros and cons about changing the net neutrality principle. Now is not the right time for the government to express its opinions." said Kim Jung-ryul, head of the Telecommunication Competition Policy Department at the Ministry of Science and ICT. "We are monitoring policy changes in countries where net neutrality policies began. The government cannot stop new technologies such as network slicing from being introduced."