South Korea is heralded as the new “future city.” A city one envisions when thinking of a megacity of the future – modern, trendy and tech-savvy. The country is publicly touted as the most wired economies in the world, boasting the highest penetration of broadband internet users in the world. The nation also aspires to incorporate 5G broadband capabilities by 2020, allowing users access to internet speeds 1,000 times faster than the nation’s currently existing 4G network (in which a full movie can be downloaded in mere seconds).
The irony is that South Korea’s blazing “bullet-speed broadband” internet technologies are highly constrained by a “closed internet” ecosystem–in which internet content and its users are subject to often intense scrutiny and intervention. This not only hampers creativity, it also hampers future start-ups.
Instead, South Korea should deregulate, not over-regulate, its internet ecosystem to become a prime example of an “Asian start-up nation” fostering a “Second Miracle on the Han River.”
Consider the following few examples of South Korea’s “closed internet” ecosystem:
– In 2013, Freedom House, an American NGO, ranked South Korea’s internet as only “partly free
– Reporters without Borders has placed South Korea on a list of countries “under surveillance”, alongside Egypt, Thailand and Russia, in its report on “Enemies of the Internet”
– Every week portions of the Korean web are taken down by government censors. In 2013, about 23,000 Korean webpages were deleted, and another 63,000 blocked, at the request of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), a nominally independent (but mainly government-appointed) public body
– In 2009, the KCSC made 4,500 requests for deletion.
– Online gaming is banned between midnight and 6am for under-16s (users must input their government-issued ID numbers as proof of the user’s legal age).
– A law dating back to the 1950-53 Korean War forbids South Korean maps from being taken out of the country. Because North and South Korea are technically still at war, the law has been expanded to include electronic mapping data—which means that Google, for instance, cannot process South Korean mapping data on its servers and therefore cannot offer driving directions inside the country.
– In 2010, the UN determined that the KCSC “essentially operates as a censorship body”
The South Korean government has recently placed a policy emphasis on deregulation to foster the nation’s so-called “creative economy” while bolstering SME growth.
Given this, we believe that South Korea would benefit economically as an open civil society in the twenty-first century if it deregulated related internet freedom laws. This would spur innovation and creativity–while signaling that South Korea’s policymakers are invoking a form of “domestic trustpolitik” between the government and the constituency they are designated to serve–the general public.