Open Letter to South Korea’s ICT Minister, Mr. Ki-Young Choe: Ensure the TBA amendments don’t harm the open internet in South Korea

This week, as a global champion for net neutrality, Mozilla wrote to South Korea’s ICT Minister, Mr. Ki-Young Choe, to urge him to reconsider the Telecommunications Business Act (TBA) amendments. We believe they violate the principles of net neutrality and would make the South Korean internet a less open space.

In our view, forcing websites (content providers) to pay network usage fees will damage the Korean economy, harm local content providers, increase consumer costs, reduce quality of service, and make it harder for global services to reach South Koreans. While we recognise the need for stable network infrastructure, these amendments are the wrong way to achieve that goal and will lead to South Korea to be a less competitive economy on the global stage.

As we’ve detailed in our open letter, we believe the current TBA amendments will harm the South Korean economy and internet in the following ways:

  • Undermining competition: Such a move would unfairly benefit large players, preventing smaller players who can’t pay these fees or shoulder equivalent obligations from competing against them. Limiting its application only to those content providers meeting certain thresholds of daily traffic volume or viewer numbers will not solve the problem as it deprives small players of opportunities to compete against the large ones.  In the South Korean local content ecosystem, where players such as Naver, Kakao and other similar services are being forced to pay exorbitant fees to ISPs to merely reach users, the oppressive effects of the service stabilization costs can become further entry barriers.
  • Limiting access to global services: This move would oblige content providers from all over the world who want to reach South Korean users to either pay local ISPs or be penalised by the Korean government for providing unstable services.  As a result, many will likely choose to not offer services in South Korea rather than comply with this law and incur its costs and risks.
  • Technical infeasibility: Requiring content providers to be responsible for service stability is impractical in the technical design of how the internet operates. Last mile network conditions are largely the responsibility of ISPs and is the core commodity they sell to their customers. Network management practices can have an outsized impact on how a user experiences a service, such as latency and download speeds. Under the amended law, a content provider, who has not been paid for the delivery of its contents by anyone, could be held liable for actions of the ISP as part of routine network management practices, including underinvestment in capacity, which is both unfair and impractical.
  • Driving up consumer costs: When it comes to consumers, content providers will likely pass the costs associated with these additional fees and infrastructure along to them, potentially creating an impractical scenario where users and content providers pay greater fees for an overall decrease in quality of service. Consumers would also suffer from an overall decrease in quality of service as providers who refuse to install local caches due to mandatory fees will  be forced to use caches outside the territory of Korea (and will therefore be significantly slower, as we saw in 2017).

The COVID-19 pandemic has made clear that there has never been a greater need for an open and accessible internet that is a public resource available to all. This law, on the other hand, makes it harder for the Korean internet infrastructure to remain a model for the world to aspire towards in these difficult times. We urge the Ministry of Science and Information Communication Technologies to revisit the TBA amendment as a whole. We remain committed to engaging with the government and ensuring South Koreans enjoy access to the full diversity of the open internet.