Some of you may remember a popular post I had earlier this year called “the cost of monoculture” which looked at the de-facto monopoly that Microsoft Internet Explorer has in South Korea for a number of historical and technical reasons. There has been some movement on this topic recently and I wanted to share this information with everyone.
On September 11th (while in the last minute rush planning Mozilla 24), I took a day trip to Seoul to make a presentation on behalf of Mozilla to present to the Korea Free Trade Commission, the major quasi-governmental anti-trust body in South Korea. To provide some background to the state of the Internet in Korea, some 35 million of the 50 million South Koreans use the Internet, leading the world in broadband usage. Comscore data supports this as well. Mozilla was invited to present on the de-facto monopoly that Internet Explorer has in Korea, which is detailed on my blog from earlier this year. The presentation I used is up on the Mozilla wiki: Fair Trade Commission (South Korea).
In addition to Mozilla, Mike Junn, country manager for Opera Korea, spoke about the limitations Opera has in the Korean mobile browser market due to the KFTCI’s policies, and Mountie Lee from Paygate (a Korean payment processor which has a browser-agnostic solution) spoke on the limitations of the payment processing market. It was important to show that the actions of the KFTCI, who provide the accredited certification service only for Internet Explorer, end up affecting not only other desktop browsers who can’t support a Microsoft-specific proprietary plugin like ActiveX, but also non-Microsoft mobile browsers as well as payment processors who want to provide their services on browsers other than Internet Explorer. Showing the diversity of the organizations impacted by the KFTCI’s policies, in addition to the market share implications, showed the breadth of the impact of the de-facto monopoly.
Attending the meeting were officials from the Korea Free Trade Commission (KFTC), the Korea Financial Telecommunications & Clearings Institute (KFTCI), the Korea Information Security Agency (KISA) who provide the Korea-specific cipher SEED which is used in the KFTCI’s accredited certification service, and a number of industry experts including Channy Yun who is the most active Mozilla volunteer in Korea and is the localizer of Firefox in Korea.
The meeting presentation was organized by Dr. Keechang Kim of Korea University, who has been in the news recently as one of the organizers of the non-profit OpenWeb group, and who has been pushing for browser and web interoperability in Korea. Currently Internet Explorer has a 99.43% market share as surveyed by a major Korean survey firm.
This was a very important meeting as the decision on whether to move forward with an investigation will be made after the content of this meeting is evaluated by the KFTC. Note the KFTC is the organization which fined Microsoft $32 mi. USD for antitrust abuses in Dec. 2005, and forced Microsoft to sell two versions of Windows in Korea (without the Media Player and instant messenger.) So there is an important precedent. The EU also fined Microsoft for anti-trust abuses and forced Microsoft to sell a version of Windows without Media Player, called Windows XP Home Edition N. The EU decision against Microsoft was recently upheld by the EU Court of First Instance which also indirectly supports the KFTC’s 2005 actions against Microsoft.
Prof. Kim told me that the KFTC was initially leaning against investigating this issue further, but that after the meeting, “[Mozilla’s] presence itself made everyone realise that the question today is a competition law issue.” The key thing to recognize is that while technical solutions like adding support for Korea’s cipher to NSS (which is only one part of a potential technical solution for Firefox) should be investigated, keeping the discussion at the anti-trust/competition law level is critical for changes to be made to Korean policy. If this issue was seen only as a technical issue, it would not receive the attention of the Korean anti-trust officials, who have acted in the past.
While we do not know yet if the KFTC will move forward with additional investigations into this issue, I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who has worked hard to bring the issues around browser choice, the de-facto monopoly of browsers in Korea, and open standards in Korea to the current position. To Dr. Keechang Kim and the Open Web team, I offer my gratitude and support. To the web developers in Korea who are slowly but surely moving towards open standards and valid HTML, especially the team at (popular Korean portal) Daum, who have a valid home page, your efforts are being noticed. Mozilla supports the open web everywhere, especially in Korea where there isn’t a choice at the moment.