Mobile neutralityThe country’s top mobile messaging app KakaoTalk began a trial service for its voice Internet protocol (VoIP) system this week. The free phone call service now available to the more than 40 million users in Korea was met, unsurprisingly, with resentment and dismay by mobile phone operators. Mobile carriers that have already been suffering losses in messaging revenue because of free apps like KakaoTalk now fear revenue from minutes will dwindle as well. This is why market leaders SK Telecom and KT plan to allow the KakaoTalk service to be used by select clients using monthly service packages of more than 54,000 won ($46). A third mobile carrier, LG U+, decided to allow its users unrestricted access to the free voice alternative.
The mobile carriers’ complaint is understandable. Their revenue from messaging services that once reached 1.5 trillion won a year has been halved after KakaoTalk’s debut in 2010.
The Internet-powered voice service won’t likely put an enormous strain on data networks as mobile carriers claim. But an increased number of users opting for free voice services can hurt revenue streams of mobile carriers who won’t then be able to afford network upgrades. In the long run, free app services could bode badly for the country’s prized advanced information and communication network.
But the evolution of digital and mobile technology is inevitable. Innovation to better serve the needs and demands of users and consumers is no longer a choice. Consumers won’t likely remain silent if operators dominating the wireless networks cut off new app services. They would be going against the global trend of the open Internet. This is why authorities uphold neutrality in network ownership.
Network operators must treat all content providers equally regardless of the surge in Internet traffic. They are strictly required to abide by transparency and rational network operation while prohibited from unfair or discriminative practices. The mobile carriers may not be happy about the rules, but otherwise the Internet and smartphone revolution cannot flourish.
Conflicts of interest due to rapid proliferation of smartphones and new apps is inevitable. Authorities impose ambiguous guidelines on network neutrality on the carriers. They ban discriminative actions but turn a blind eye to operators’ limited restrictive measures in order to prevent an overload of traffic.
But such lenient guidelines won’t help the mobile environment.