The decision by the Korean Communications Commission to allow mobile operators to charge subscribers for accessing mobile VoIP services from “over the top” providers, such as Kakao Talk, is a defining moment in the country’s net neutrality debate.
Local mobile operators SK Telecom (SKT) and Korea Telecom (KT) have been infuriated by the arrival of OTT mVoIP players and have piled significant pressure on the KCC to take action. Kakao Talk has built up a user base of about 37 million for its mobile messenger service and in late May launched its Voice Talk mVoIP service, to the fury of SKT and KT.
The KCC makes its move
After lengthy deliberations, the KCC came out on June 26 with a decision allowing operators to charge subs for access to these OTT mVoIP services, provoking an immediate strong backlash from subscribers and Net Neutrality advocates.
Many subscribers claimed that the KCC and mobile operators were colluding to charge subscribers for OTT mVoIP services in order to protect the status quo in the mobile market.
They said that although the operators want to charge subs for OTT mVoIP services for commercial reasons, the KCC is simply taking the easy way out by allowing this rather than seeing the operators forced to take unpopular alternative measures, such as increasing their voice prices or ending unlimited calling plans in order to recoup revenues lost to mVoIP services.
The KCC has strongly denied such claims and has said that its main reason for placing restrictions on mVoIP access is to protect the wider telecoms market from the potential revenue losses caused by OTT mVoIP services, including those offered by US giants such as Apple, Skype and Google.
Mobile operators have not been so shy in defending the KCC’s ruling, saying it is impossible for them to proceed with their extensive investments in LTE networks if OTT mVoIP operators are given a free ride on their networks.