The network neutrality issue first appeared August last year when three telecommunication companies sent memorandum to Samsung, LG electronics, etc., requesting payment for Internet usage.
Round 1: Outbreak
The network providers claimed that despite continuous investment in network construction, it is physically not possible to meet the ever rising demands of customers. Traffic congestion is inevitable and it is always the network providers who have to bear the blame for a slow Internet. They argue this is simply not fair because the traffic explosion originates from contents providers, thus the responsibility of traffic congestion should be shared.
In contrast, content providers claim the very act of requesting payment is a violation as well as contradiction of the principles of network neutrality that consists of non-discrimination, interconnection, and accessibility. The moment network providers begin to control any form of Internet service, customers are bound to be controlled as well, and this will eventually bite the very core of Korea’s Internet foundation, which was based on network neutrality.
The issue was paused with Korea Communications Commission’s intervention and implementation of ‘Guideline for Network Neutrality’.
Round 2: Foreseen Crash
On February 9, KT announced that it would shutdown the Internet connection to Samsung Electronics’ smart TV and justified its action saying that Samsung was virtually enjoying a free ride on networks and showed no interest to come to the negotiation table.
KT added that its continuous efforts to bring smart TV manufacturers to the negotiation table showed very minimal results due to the avoidance and passive stance of manufacturers. KT asserted that smart TV generates 5 to 15 times more excessive data traffic than IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) and that this would eventually lead to a complete blackout of the whole network if smart TV was to be distributed at the current speed.
Samsung Electronics criticized KT and urged its immediate withdrawal. Samsung officials said, “This act must not be tolerated.” Furthermore, in regards to the claim that smart TV generates excessive data traffic, the official added, “Smart TV generates similar traffic data if not actually lower data traffic. The assumption that smart TV will cause a complete blackout is a myth.”
This five day tug of war finally ended following the Korea Communications Commission’s intervention and mediation, with KT reopening Internet access to Samsung Smart TV. However, the real end still appeared far away.
Round 3: Internet Content Provider (ICP) or Device Manufacturer?
In Samsung’s defense, Samsung claims it is only a device manufacturer, not an Internet content provider because it does not generate profits by using the network. It is very illogical to enforce a manufacturer to share the responsibility because the device causes (apparently) traffic congestion. It is like asking car manufactures to pay expressway toll fees because they have sold so many cars, which caused congestion on expressways.
On the contrary, in the forum that took place on February 22, the CEO of KT publicly said, “People often misunderstand the network as public goods. They are wrong. The network is a private property that KT has invested 3 trillion won annually.” He continued, criticizing Samsung indirectly by saying, “The network can be understood as a privatized expressway. There is no problem when ordinary cars pay the fees for the right to use an expressway. However, problems arise if heavy loaded cars enter from a separate entrance without paying the fee and begin to sell products at a rest point.”
The major issue is whether we should see smart TV manufacture as ICPs or not. Professor Shin Min -soo at Hanyang University, an adherent of the idea that Samsung is an ICP said, “Smart TV services require fine network quality management above all else, and there is no doubt that smart TVs are included in the scope of discussions regarding network neutrality.”
On the contrary, professor Kang Jae-won from the Department of Mass Communication at Dongguk University analyzed that Samsung Electronics is not a content service business because it does not make a charge nor gain profits from its applications or content.
In order to prevent any recurrence, KCC’s basic policy should be implemented through forums where various telecommunication companies participate rather than leaving the solution to bilateral negotiations only.