South Korea's network infrastructure may be state of the art, but the country’s 'pay to play' regime for delivering traffic are a unprecedented threat to the free and open internet.
Open Net Korea, along with 13 other NGOs — including epicenter.works and Access Now — are appealing to South Korea’s Minister of Science, Technology and ICT, Ki-Young Choe, to stop the government undermining principles of net neutrality via the newly-passed Content Providers’ Traffic Stabilization Law. Through an open letter, the coalition is calling on the South Korean government to repeal the law and the SPNP rule(explained below), and to implement measures that ensure an open and accessible internet across the country.
A threat to freedom of speech
In May, South Korea passed a potentially harmful law that obligates content providers to institute "service stabilization measures", effectively requiring high-traffic content providers to pay network usage fees or otherwise ensure delivery of content. This "pay to play" regime is in direct opposition to the fundamental priciples of net neutrality, and functions to de-democratize online spaces.
Free and open internet is based on the model that service providers uniformly charge internet users for a connection, allowing them free rein over what and how they consume content and use services online. Charging content providers to "use" the network of the user they are trying to reach with their service is against all architectural principles, and threatens to deny people their agency to participate online and quash their right to free speech.
This alarming new law comes on the heels of the 2016 Sending Party Network Pays (SPNP) regime, essentially billing internet use like telephone calls among ISPs. The newly passed service stabilization law officially extends the financial and technical burden to content providers.
Why this is bad
"The whole reason for creating the internet was not to tax people for speaking with one another. This new law reverses that history, puts us back to a time when our only way to reach a million people with our messages was to pay millions in postage or phone bills," says Prof. Park of Open Net Korea.
"This regulatory model is a regression to the 80s telephony era where big telecom companies can charge the whole world just for connecting their users. If this becomes the model for 5G, we lose everything that makes the internet innovative, diverse and global," says Thomas Lohninger from epicenter.works.
"Governments and telecommunications regulators must ensure that advancing the interests of users and expanding the benefits of internet connectivity is their primary focus. South Korea's global leadership on broadband and the open internet is jeopardized by this regressive legislative move that jeopardizes network neutrality by advancing outmoded, ineffective approaches to telecom policy", said Raman Jit Singh Chima of Access Now.
Civil society organizations are calling on the government of South Korea to repeal the new Content Providers’ traffic stabilization law and the SPNP rule immediately.
Read more background information here.
Read the full open letter here.