Why Is South Korea a Global Broadband Leader?

from EFF

A universal fiber network that was completed years ago. Millions of 5G users. Some of the world’s fastest and cheapest broadband connections. South Korea has all of these, while other nations that have the same resources lag behind. How did South Korea become a global leader in the first place? EFF did a deep dive into this question and has produced the following report. The key takeaway: government policies that focus on expanding access to telecommunications infrastructure were essential to success.

More here.

Posted in Future Thinking, Innovation, International, Technology and tagged , , , , , .


  1. South Korea has been leading in internet speeds for quite a while — why is this? Well, many reasons. In my opinion, the biggest has to do with geography. South Korea is a pretty compact nation, with a pretty tight geography. Compared to the U.S., South Korea is 99 times smaller than the giant. This is important, because in the world of high speed data connections, distance is everything. As the distance between two points grows, the more drop-off there is in connection, and this is where slowdown occurs. As a side note, this is huge in the world of online gaming (we can use online gaming to observe this distance issue). One of the biggest problems in the U.S. is that the farther you are from your opponent, the harder it is to have a good match with a stable connection. For instance, in online fighting games, many people from California refuse to play with someone who lives in New York; the ping discrepancy is too large, even though they live in the same country. This isn’t an issue for smaller countries like South Korea and Japan — generally, people in those countries can play against someone else in that country with a reliable connection, regardless of where they are in the country.

    Another issue is the monopolistic nature of ISP’s in the U.S. We have so many service providers, with varying speeds, varying prices, and varying holds on different areas. When I lived in central Jersey, there was only one internet service provider — they had a stranglehold on that area, and their quality wasn’t even as good as competitors in other towns. But because they were the only provider (above a DSL connection at least…), we were forced to pay for their service, and use their speeds.

    This is a side note, but I find the 5G craze to be interesting. It’s funny, because while 5G will be great for streaming and general internet speeds, it will be miles ahead of many of our other technologies, such as hard drive speeds. Currently, hard drive and solid state drive speeds are lagging behind our rapidly evolving internet speeds. So while I welcome our faster internet speeds, I’m not going to cry over it if we don’t see it for another few years.

  2. South Korea is the international leader currently in broadlands making the use of technology more efficient there than anywhere else in the world. Now because a lot of other countries have a lot more resources and international trade and affairs the question quickly arose as to how South Korea became a global leader in the first place. The answer to that is dedication and triage of resources. Along with that government policies that focus on expanding access to telecommunications infrastructure were essential to success are also responsible for this global leadership. At the end of the Korean War, a long list of major efforts in the 1970s and 1980s were created in order to upbuild the nation’s infrastructure. Telecommunications received a special emphasis because the nation still did not have a specific universal telephone system. In recognition of the fact that they needed to develop technology to expedite the rollout of its telecom sector, the Korean government invested about one percent of its GDP (60 million U.S. dollars) in research and development of electronic switching devices, which led creators to the quick launch of the electronic switching device. When the country of South Korea entered the 2000s, it continuously set new national goals with metrics, analyzed the market barriers, and then developed and implemented policies in order to achieve all of these big goals within a timely manner. Included in these were several changes in law such as the passage of the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act. Both of these acts that were passed worked to establish rules that barred unfair practices and prohibited unreasonable rates for access to fiber lines. These laws also restrained corporate concentration in the telecom sector and also restrained mergers and acquisitions to improve the overall market share for any one company that was allowed to hold. The burden of competing with massive cable companies in the United States has been placed exclusively on small local governments today. This burden has also been placed onto small private ISPs while they are making progress in spite of all the challenges. However, despite this progress the United States is still a long ways away from universally accessible fiber that would a;p a universally accessible 5G network. By South Korea pushing America to come up with new ways to think about broadband as an infrastructure challenge and viewing it with policies designed to promote universality, the situation can easily be taken care of for the future. Shortly back in time the United States policy makers regularly addressed the urgent issues surfacing in the telecom market in an attempt to stimulate competition and access. Also, many of the lessons have been earned simply by addressing telecom monopolies that will try to apply to broadband monopolies today. Concluding these thoughts it is pretty clear to see that South Korea’s title as the world leader of this topic is very well deserved because of their forward thinking and their ability to push and motivate themselves.

  3. Reading this article was quite interesting after having researched and learned so much about the broadband problem America has been struggling with for years. Unlike South Korea, America’s ISP monopoly dilemma stemmed from their own mistakes, such as the passing of the Cable Communications Policy Act in 1984. This act gave cities the authority to create exclusive partnerships between their city and cable companies. As a result, these said cable companies snatched entire cities for themselves and ultimately formed the monopoly we have today. This leaves Americans with little to no option of the internet service providers, and no competition for these companies that can possibly drive them to provide better services. They now relish in their unethical de facto monopolies while Americans suffer the consequences of inadequate internet with no way out.

    On the other hand, countries such as South Korea have a huge upper hand in the broadband service industry. Their speed averages are often over seven times faster than the average United States’ broadband speed, and offer much more reasonable prices for their services as well. To no surprise, America still charges an unreasonable amount of money for their services- one of the most expensive in the developed world.

    It is clear that South Korea, just to name one, offers such better broadband services than America because they do not have a monopoly problem. In fact, they have passed and altered laws such as the Monopoly Regulation and Fair Trade Act in order to prevent that from occurring. Because their government is so keen on avoiding these monopolies, perhaps because they see the United States struggling, they have taken the proper precautions necessary in order to flourish in their broadband services. The United States can learn a lot from the policy efforts of South Korea. As the article explains, “we share many of the same characteristics in terms of population density, income, and geography.” There is no reason why we are not as connected and successful in the business as they are, and perhaps we should begin to look to them for guidance. Broadband and the internet has become so essential in everyday life, so if this problem is not fixed soon America has a rough future to come.

  4. Internet access and reliability has reached a point in society where many consider it to be not so much a luxury anymore, but rather a utility that everyone has a right to. To operate in society today, the average individual needs a stable internet connection to be able operate in a workplace, especially now with the current pandemic, which is forcing many back into their homes and onto their computers for work for the first time ever. The infrastructure for this exists in many countries, but countries like South Korea have an edge over the United States when it comes to how consumers can access their internet; due to years and years of policy aimed at structuring the telecommunications infrastructure in the country. This came after the end of the Korean War, when Korea realized it needed to rebuild infrastructure and restructure its policies. What they did that differentiates them from the US telecommunications market is the policies directly banning and outlawing monopolization in the market, as well as preventing the centralization of certain aspects of the marketplace. It was intended to keep the competitive nature of the market to remain intact, which in turn sparks innovation and a need for improvement. In an unregulated market, certain aspects of industry could become consolidated and this then causes stagnation, since without any one competing there is no need to make improvements. This is currently happening in America, where ISPs have monopolized the marketplace and charge the most expensive prices in the modern world. Yet the internet speeds are the slowest, not even comparable to the speeds in South Korea. South Korea has taken even further steps by integrating a universal fiber network to allow all citizens access to high speed internet. Just this infrastructure implementation means that companies are allowed to utilize the networks that have been built by government, which reduces entry barrier costs and makes the ability to compete even greater. With efforts from the government to not only regulate the marketplace, but also implement infrastructure to help promote new business and reduce entry costs, the issue that seems unavoidable in the US becomes one of the most efficient and advanced broadband markets in the world.

  5. Finally, I have a reason that I can’t get out of the Starcraft 2 Diamond Ladder — my main competition has a faster connection than me! In seriousness, I’m happy to see someone with the ability took the initiative to push for 5G as fast as they could. If anything, countries should see it as a way to expand happiness, productivity, and even defense! But, more pressing, how did South Korea do it faster than anyone else? After all, the only other thing people know that they do better than the rest of the world is witness North Korean missile tests, and normally Japan comes off in Western Media as being the technologically advanced East Asian country. No, South Korea accomplished this the same way New Jersey would; very high population density. There is a social benefit to everyone for 5G to be established, but it makes no sense if few can utilize it when considering the costs. However, if you can drive 10 minutes in any direction and be in a town or city, is that not a reason to put 5G up both in those areas but on the drive to them as well? After all, no one in South Korea is exactly in the middle of nowhere. 51.6 million people live in an area the size of Indiana, leaving 1,300 people per square mile. That impressive population density practically ensures that putting 5G anywhere helps someone and putting it everywhere is easy.

  6. After reading this article, some of its linked sources, and each of the 5 comments at the time of writing I’m conflicted in a few different ways, although, my interest is definitely piqued especially by some of the commenters’ points. The Gist of Ernesto Falcon’s piece encompasses the success of the South Korean government at regulating and guaranteeing an impressive fiber infrastructure that puts the country at the forefront of broadband speeds and accessibility. He not only evaluates the factors that led to this impressive result but enumerates the exact steps that the government took in order to ensure the private sector could enjoy unparalleled bandwidth and connectivity universally throughout the country while simultaneously encouraging competition that would ultimately lead to larger growth among Korean ISPs than the currently languishing US ISPs.
    Justin Matthews Comment was particularly intriguing and necessitated additional research which led me to a few new pieces of information that helped me strike a balance between my initial opinions and his stated views. He brought up the extremely important point that South Korea is a geographically miniscule country when compared to the U.S., therefore, comparing the two countries’ fiber infrastructure is inherently not possible due to the astronomical cost differences in implementing a full fiber network over more than 99 times the geographical area. Additionally, Matthews supposes that even if you were to compare the two systems directly, the physical limitations of the technology would additionally make it impossible to compare overall speeds because the transmission of information via any medium is inherently limited to a finite speed. Meaning even if Korea were to implement the same plan and infrastructure in the U.S. it would not be able to maintain comparable speeds over the country as a whole due to the upper speed limit of data transmission. While I agree with the majority of Matthews’ views, I think the facts he presents do not diminish the articles intended point that the U.S. could improve the state of broadband infrastructure drastically by imitating or improving upon even a few of the policies and regulations that South Korea used to arguably create some of the best broadband infrastructures in the world.
    Overall, the distance argument still negates the possibility of the U.S. developing an identical or faster network with the same strategy. However, an extremely important fact to take into account is that bandwidth and speed are entirely different metrics involving quantity and speed respectively. I would suppose that the higher bandwidth networks in South Korea contribute to a substantially less interrupted flow of data both downstream and upstream than the actual measured peak speed. I have personally seen internet speeds in major U.S. cities such as Atlanta, New York City, and Philadelphia reach 100+ Mbps, however, the keyword is “reach”. Peak speed is not the same as sustained speed and I believe most people in U.S. cities have experienced speed drops on a frequent basis around local time periods that coincide with the end of school, work, dinner, etc.. The way I see it, the regulations and policies enacted by South Korea created a network of large, reliable, and wide channels for communication and data transfer that can handle not only today’s requirements but the requirements of the future as well. They are working to continuously improve the system through competition among regulated companies that will not have the opportunity to become large and stagnant de facto monopolies.
    Regardless of the issues that I have in the article’s direct comparison of the US and Korean Infrastructure, the undeniable devotion of the Korean government to creating a strong and widely available infrastructure that promotes fast and cheap internet through competition is the most important (and infallible) takeaway from the article. I have seen far too many articles admonishing the United States and Canada’s ISPs for ramping up connection prices and reducing quality in return for a slightly lower bill. Improvement? 5G? Innovation? Universal fiberoptics? I have rarely seen these terms referencing North American broadband in the past few years, many of which are used throughout Falcon’s article praising Korea for its efforts. The standout line in Falcon’s article “policy is always relevant to ensuring a healthy and competitive market” resonated with me substantially because I have often wondered why we have so few ISPs in the U.S. that are of such low quality. (At the time of writing my tested Internet Speed is 24.9 Mpbs while according to the article, speeds in most major Korean cities reach or exceed 150Mpbps). I would maintain that if the government today spent just a fraction of a percent of GDP on fiber infrastructure, we could see drastic improvements and open up paths to grow in the future as well. It would likely be on a more modest scale than South Koreas described universal fiber network but for an aging system full of monopolistic providers that have no incentive to improve, it would be a godsend. The U.S. dismantled telephone monopolies in the ’80s and I believe a little of that regulatory attitude towards current ISPs would go a long way in improving US broadband speed and bandwidth. By promoting actual competition and a desire to improve the overall quality of data transfer and access throughout the country we could see comparable speed and reliability in the near future.

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