Seeking network neutrality
By Cho Mu-hyun
After Kakao Talk recently launched a test service for free calls, debate over network neutrality is gaining momentum among the nation’s telecommunications regulator, mobile carriers and content providers. The debate is expected to heat up further once the Korea Communications Commission (KCC) creates an alliance of mobile carriers and content providers with the aim of settling differences over network neutrality.
According to the KCC, under the supervision of the regulator, the Smart Network Business Association will be inaugurated Tuesday. Conferences after the launch of the new organization will have mobile carriers and content providers discuss the commercialization of content transmission technologies and ways to cooperate in the future market ecosystem.
The KCC is attempting to resolve matters between telecommunications companies and content providers, while planning to initiate joint investment and projects on transmission technology.
Network neutrality has been a hot topic with the spread of smartphones and the explosion of data traffic associated with it. Network neutrality advocates that government or network providers should treat all content transmitted through their networks equally, whether it requires a little or lot of memory.
The most recent debate was sparked over Kakao Talk’s voice over Internet protocol (VoIP), which brought to attention mobile carriers sensitivity over content providers using their networks.
LG Uplus announced that it will allow VoIP services, but was more careful about its position concerning network neutrality. “Opening our service to VoIP has nothing to do with our stance concerning network neutrality.”
Telecommunication companies argue that content providers should pay for using their networks that cost billions of won to build and take responsibility for mitigating the data explosion. Content providers cite fair competition and demand that they use the networks for free. Multiple domestic and international Internet firms formed the Open Internet Alliance (OIA) in July last year and advocate network neutrality.
It seems no conference organized by the KCC will change the views of the respective parties.
Mobile carriers have admitted that cooperative development on technology to lessen data traffic is among the topics for discussion, and although they hope content providers show willingness for joint investment, it is doubtful they will do so.
“We are now starting the main discussion on network neutrality,” said an SK Telecom official. “We are joining the association to discuss ways to work together with Internet firms. But SK Telecom’s position is unchanged: when they (Internet firms) demand we consider a healthy and fair market environment, we want to retort, how can using networks that cost billions won for free achieve that?
“We try to find ways to survive together, but I doubt that they will move an inch in their demands (to use our network for free.)”
“The meeting will revolve around network neutrality for sure. They (content providers) are asking us to invest a huge amount in development to deal with data traffic, while they use our network for free,” said an LG Uplus official. “Our stance is unchanged, that what they are asking is ridiculous considering common sense.”
The official said that though they will provide the network for free since “they are demanded to do so” by the government, no guarantees will made over quality. He added that although joint investment will be discussed during the meeting, the content providers will be unlikely to agree to it.
Tension escalated between KT and Samsung Electronics over network use. The second largest wireless service provider blocked Internet access to the firm’s smart televisions, saying they caused too much data traffic and demanded Samsung pay to use its network.
Despite demands from telecommunication firms for payment or joint investment in traffic-controlling technology, content providers are not giving in.
“We will not discuss the issue of network neutrality directly during the conferences,” said an NHN spokeswoman. “But settling the issue in the long term is definitely part of our agenda. We want to find an agreement to lessen the tension between us and mobile carriers.”
She added that the discussion on Tuesday will revolve around research and development (R&D) on solutions for data explosions.
“There should be no one-way argument by a telecommunications company that goes against network neutrality and blocks content. All resolutions should consider the view point of the users first.”
Though it was reported that Daum was joining the association, a company representative said it is yet undecided on whether to participate. “We cannot confirm whether we will actually join the new organization or what concrete issues will be discussed if it happens,” said a Daum representative.
He also added that the company is a member of OIA, and that it supports the view that there should be no limitation to content transmitted through networks.