The 5G Communication Policy Council, created by the Ministry of Science and ICT in an effort to re-examine communications policies in tune with the new 5G era with the cooperation of private, public, and academic sector, is nearing its end. 5G is expected to expand wireless internet’s bandwidth by 10~20 times by using completely different frequencies. Some parties have argued that such expanded excess bandwidth should be cut into “premium slices” used exclusively for autonomous driving cars, remote medical care, and other ‘high-value’ internet services, and this has clashed with the principles of net neutrality. Open Net demands the following in line with the discussions that have been had and the changes in circumstances:
First, it must be remembered that the calls for Net Neutrality became ever stronger each time transitions from 2G to 3G, 3G to 4G took place. This trend must continue through the transition from 4G to 5G. On February 13, 2019, Open Net hosted a seminar with guest speaker Frode Sorensen of Norway’s Nkom. Considered one of the main authors of BEREC Guidelines on the Implementation by National Regulators of European Net Neutrality Rules, Sorensen confirmed that Europe would not modify its Net Neutrality regulations in anticipation of the 5G era because specialized services can be allowed without loosening Net Neutrality under the condition that it would not affect general quality of Internet Access Services.
It is important to note that ‘not affecting general quality of IAS’ does not merely mean that the current 4G-era quality of IAS not be affected. It means that high bandwidth apps and contents befitting to the 5G era may be used in the general quality IAS, and that specialized services shall be allowed under the condition that they does not adversely impact general quality IAS of that future era. (Frode Sorensen’s seminar at Open Net, page 22)
It is important that we take to heart Sorensen’s observation that the net neutrality rule must be maintained even for the purpose of allowing specialized services to freely operate because it requires absence of mutual disruption between specialized services and general IAS . In order to do that, the country’s net neutrality guidelines must be strengthened in accordance with international standards. Unlike BEREC or previous FCC’s net neutrality regulations that ban ‘all content discrimination’ except in cases of ‘reasonable network management’, Republic of Korea’s net neutrality guideline bans only ‘unreasonable content discrimination’ as if there can be ‘reasonable content discrimination’ in addition to reasonable network management. This gap has resulted in ambiguous treatments of mVoIp discrimination and P2P discrimination. In addition, the Korean guideline allowing ISPs to ‘provide managed service (equivalent to BEREC’s specialized services) as long as the best effort Internet service quality does not fall below adequate levels’ makes it seem as though excess bandwidth can be diverted to special services as long as some minimum level of general quality IAS is maintained. It is necessary to change these guidelines to meet international standards so that only those specialized services not causing a decline in the quality of general quality IAS are allowed.
Second, not all zero-ratings are the same : zero-rating the telco’s own or affiliates’ contents must be regulated separately because of high likelihood to transfer its market dominance to the content market and effectively exclude non-affiliates from competition. Open Net has also consistently pointed out that such zero-rating practices threaten net neutrality and the freedom to to communicate without censorship or permission of any intermediary. Until as recently as January 11, SKT had zero-rated its affiliate online shopping mall 11st, an issue that had been hotly contested in the 5G Communication Policy Council’s 3rd meeting on December 20 of 2018. Although the decision to stop is welcomed, it came after a long wait and after the late entrant 11st was able to propel itself to the number 2 seat in the Korean online shopping market with the backing of its parent company SKT and the zero-rating service it provided. This is an evident abuse of market dominance under antitrust laws. The Korea Communications Commission and the Ministry of Science and ICT are worthy of criticism for being bystanders to this practice. Regulations must be put in place so that such cases of unfair market share expansion with the backing of parent network operators can no longer take place in the future.
Third, transparency regulations must also be strengthened. All network management measures, both reasonable and unreasonable, must be disclosed to the users. There have been problems with network operators failing to disclose mVoIP blocks, P2P blocks. In order to figure out whether such measures are actual network management measures or not and whether they are reasonable or unreasonable, the contents of such measures must be disclosed. (In the case of mVoIP block, it was not even certain that it was a network management measure due to the small size of the packet.) Even in the case of reasonable network management, the users have a right to be informed about the network operators measures on the bandwidth volume that they have purchased.
The basic working principles of the internet are not subject to change just because internet bandwidth increases 10~20 times in the 5G era. Internet has played an important role in civilization in that it allows billions of terminals to simultaneously communicate with one another without physical contact thanks to all the terminals delivering one another’s data packets non-discriminately. Democracy and equality have made great strides in the socioeconomic and political realm with the help of the internet that allows anyone to communicate their ideas with unspecified masses. Abolishing net neutrality and allowing high-paying customers to receive preferential bandwidth through network slicing essentially means that there will be an economic prerequisite to information sharing. This may result in the return to the past where those with better financial means had the upper hand in communicating their ideas to others. Should network-slicing be allowed, it must be done so within the regulatory frame of Network Neutrality.
February 28, 2019