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Korea ponders net neutrality move

Dec 16,2017
Net neutrality was scrapped by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Thursday and the Korean government is cautiously observing the impact on internet service providers and content providers like Google and Netflix.

Rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 prohibit broadband companies like AT&T and Comcast from limiting connections to certain websites or charging extra for higher-quality streaming.

In a vote that took place Thursday, the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, nominated by President Donald Trump, and two Republican commissioners voted to change those rules, clinching a 3-to-2 majority.

The New York Times said the move reflected “the view of the Trump administration and the new FCC chairman that unregulated business will eventually yield innovation and help the economy,” in an article Thursday.

Pai has been blunt in his view that lifting the restrictions would give incentives to broadband providers to expand and upgrade networks and ultimately benefit consumers.

Many Democrats and the Internet Association, a trade group that represents more than 40 tech giants including Amazon, Google and Facebook, expressed strong opposition.

“Relying on internet service providers to live up to their own ‘promises’ is not net neutrality and is bad for consumers,” said Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman in a statement issued Thursday. He added that the association is “currently weighing legal options” to fight the FCC’s decision.

Global video-streaming giant Netflix also expressed its opposition in a tweet Friday, saying, “This is the beginning of a longer legal battle.”

While Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT still maintains it has no plans to follow the U.S. decision, the fact that the U.S. has always led the debate on net neutrality regulations spurred speculation that events in Washington could reshape the internet experience of Koreans over the long term.

Currently, the Korean government oversees net neutrality based on guidelines set up in 2011 by the Korea Communications Commission. Some more rules were added later to improve transparency in internet traffic management.

“We are closely watching the situation,” an official from the ICT Ministry said. “Since the business and legal situations in Korea and the U.S. differ greatly, we are not necessarily planning to follow suit immediately.”

The official expected changes in the industry will only be obvious after a few months as it takes time for industry players to change their ways of doing business. In addition, there is still strong opposition to the decision and legal challenges to come.

“There hasn’t been active debate yet on net neutrality in Korea so there won’t be an immediate influence on Korean companies,” said Ahn Jae-min, an analyst from NH Investment and Securities. “However, in the longer term, when more data flows through 5G networks such a decision [by the U.S.] may become a positive momentum for broadband providers.”

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]