South Korea’s network infrastructure may be state of the art, but the country’s “pay to play” regime for delivering traffic is an unprecedented threat to the free and open internet.
Access Now, along with 13 other NGOs — including Open Net Korea and epicenter.works — are appealing to South Korea’s Minister of Science, Technology and ICT, Choi Kiyoung, 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 new law and the SPNP rule, and to implement measures that ensure an open and accessible internet across the country.
In May 2020, 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 follow other demands placed on them by telcos or the government. This “pay to play” regime is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles 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 works against this model, and threatens to deny people their agency to participate online and quash their right to freedom of speech.
“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,” said Prof. Park, Executive Director at Open Net Korea.
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 internet service providers. The newly passed Content Providers’ Traffic Stabilization Law officially extends the financial and technical burden to content providers.
“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 threatens network neutrality by advancing outmoded, ineffective approaches to telecom policy”, said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia Pacific Policy Director and Senior International Counsel at 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.