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Netflix ordered to pay for network usage in Korea

A South Korean court has ruled against Netflix in a case over its payment – or lack thereof – of network usage fees.

The decision essentially means that the video streaming specialist will now have to pay the network operators to carry its traffic, pending the result of what is being seen as an inevitable appeal.

The story comes from the Korea Herald, which explains that late last week a court in Seoul ruled that Netflix should pay for traffic over SK Broadband’s network.

That’s the short version. The full story dates back to 2019 when SK Broadband – a broadband and TV provider, and a unit of incumbent telco SKT – filed a complaint against Netflix with regulator the Korea Communications Commission, the paper said. Shortly afterwards, Netflix launched a legal challenge, asking the courts to determine whether or not it is obliged to pay for traffic on SK Broadband’s network.

It appears that Netflix was leaning heavily on the principle of net neutrality – in which all network traffic is treated equally and not separated out and charged for… just in case anyone has forgotten, given that we don’t discuss it as much as we once did – and objected to the idea of SK Broadband presenting it with a bill. It’s not wholly clear whether that bill for network usage came out of nowhere, or whether there was an established relationship between the parties that changed over time, possibly as a result of Netflix’s growing popularity. The paper claimed that Netflix accounted for 4.8% of all network traffic in South Korea in the fourth quarter of last year.

The court came down on the side of the free market, essentially ruling that it is up to the companies in question to agree any commercial agreements between them. “According to the principle of freedom of contract, whether to conclude a contract and what price to pay is a matter to be decided through the negotiations of the concerned parties,” the paper quoted it as saying.

That’s a pretty clear stance against net neutrality.

The court also acknowledged that Netflix is receiving network services at a cost to SK Broadband and declared it “reasonable” that it should have to pay for those services.

The paper quoted  SKT chief executive Park Jung-ho as saying that “the time has come to meet Netflix.” He added: “I think the ruling can make our meeting much better. Cooperation in Asia will be important for Netflix.”

‘Cooperation’ may or may not involve money changing hands. The paper notes that Netflix has agreed marketing deals with the country’s other two major mobile operators, KT and LGU+, which could be beneficial for it when it comes to negotiating traffic fees.

But this ruling has broader implications. Facebook and Google account for huge amounts of traffic in South Korea, while the likes of Disney and Amazon are looking to establish themselves in the market. Many companies’ strategies will be impacted by the outcome of the appeal that everyone expects Netflix to lodge.


6 comments

  1. Avatar Avnie Bansal 29/06/2021 @ 2:51 pm

    Woah!

    Now I think Netflix will have a choice to make.

    Does it have enough Korean customers to even think about paying for the internet services?

    Will the price rise for Netflix users?

    Guess, we’ll have to wait and watch.

  2. Avatar Patrick Ayanbanji Ojo 29/06/2021 @ 7:21 pm

    This is one of the landmark judgement the industry has been waiting for. The judge is courageous to deliver this judgement. Business should not be onesided. All players ought to benefit to sustain the business.

    Thank you Judge South Korea.

  3. Avatar Anthony 30/06/2021 @ 5:29 am

    This was only a matter of time and will happen elsewhere

  4. Avatar aninternetperson 30/06/2021 @ 5:52 pm

    The internet must remain free.
    If a company developed a service and offers it over the internet, risking all and then profits, so be it…

    Asking Netflix to pay today for the fact that it provides a service over the internet means that one day e-commerce shops will be told to pay as well.

    imagine being a startup e-commerce website and having to pay a fee in order to reach your customers!

    Innovation will wither, entrepreneurs with nothing but an idea and a internet connection will give up because they can’t afford fees…

    Let the Internet be free. we will all benefit from that.

  5. Avatar Matt 01/07/2021 @ 1:01 am

    the comment that Netflix are receiving network services from SK, don’t the end subscribers pay for this today? They are essentially paying an averaged monthly fee to get any content form anywhere delivered to their end device. If Netflix or any content provider are now expected to foot this bill then would the end subscriber not be due a discount as a result? Otherwise SK are charging two parties for the same thing, essentially double dipping.

  6. Avatar Kikay 08/10/2021 @ 2:33 am

    Yes, the subscriber are already charging their customer for Internet and they still want to charge Netflix? Netflix should just cancel their shows in South Korea.

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