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A Comparative Analysis of the Broadband Policy:
The US vs. South Korea
This paper attempts to simultaneously provide an answer to the
following interrelated questions:
Why is broadband more readily available in South Korea than in the
US? It is found that the
Koreans' rapid diffusion of broadband access is the result of
combining the government's
culturally-sensitive ICT policy that promotes both the supply and the
demand of the broadband
with Korean people's unique cultural traits including the
sophisticated, hush-rush consumer
behavior, the collective culture reflected in the combination of
'Baang' and online gaming, the
sanctity of education, the densely populated living conditions, and
the emerging dynamism in
Korea. Five broader implications were drawn from this comparative
analysis as conclusions.
Broadband, or high-speed Internet access has not only been one of the most
popular topics in the media but also one of the highest priorities in
public policy and on
political agendas at a global level. Policy makers assume that rapid
broadband would bring numerous benefits to society including global
They share a common goal: making access to broadband services widely
available. However, they disagree with how to achieve that goal.
As with other technologies, some view broadband adoption as a response to
consumer demand, while others view the deployment as a push from the
Some argue that US government intervention is not necessary; while
others lament that
the US lags behind other nations in adopting broadband connections,
blame the government for lack of a broadband policy.
In March 2004, President Bush set a national goal of making
access available to every US home by 2007. The broadband adoption at US homes
already surpassed that of dial-up in July 2004, reaching 51 percent
of residential Web
users (Reuters, Aug 19, 2004). In early 2005, however, FCC
Copps argued that the US may be "the only industrial country on the
face of God's green
earth that doesn't have a national plan for broadband deployment"(Hu,
Feb 28, 2005). To
some US technology executives, the US information superhighway has
turned into a
"bumpy, two-lane country road"(Forsberg, March 13, 2005).
In contrast, every so often a pundit or a journalist rediscovers
South Korea and
presents it as a broadband nirvana. For example, South Korea has been
described as a
"Broadband Miracle" by the Wall Street Journal (Aug 26, 2004),
by Wired Magazine (Aug 2002), and as a "Broadband Wonderland" by
(Sep 20, 2004). In fact, Fortune said that it might soon be possible
for Korea to exercise a
strong influence over the future of communications just as France
influence on wine and cheese (Fortune, Sep 20, 2004).1
Accordingly, Korea is "at the forefront of the broadband revolution,
from telephone and cable companies in America to policy makers in
wants to learn from Korea's experience" (Gamble in Shameen, April
2004).2 At one time,
25 percent of the world's broadband users were in Korea, and 10
percent were in Seoul.
Still, however, not many try and write about how South Korea has
become the center of
the broadband world.
Then, why is broadband more readily available in South Korea than in
the US? Is
government push more important than consumer pull? What are the major
regulatory policy and consumer characteristics between the US and
South Korea in the area of
broadband access to the Internet? We will look at the broadband
phenomenon from two
perspectives: communication policy and consumer behaviors in cultural
2. AN ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK AND LITERATURE REVIEW
A. Theoretical Positions
There are two major theories on technology and society that have been
particularly influential in new media research: diffusion of
innovations and social shaping
of technology (SST). They are sometimes characterized as competing --
-- approaches to technological change. Both diffusion and SST address
the origins and
1 See also "South Korea's Digital Dynasty" by CnetNews.com's
three-part special report (June 23, 24 and
25, 2004). The McKinsey Quarterly (2004, No. 4). Broadband's future:
Lessons from South Korea.
2 According to Chang-Kon Kim, vice minister for Ministry of
Information and Communication (MIC) in
Korea, "Everyone from the FCC in Washington to telecom policy making
institution in Nigeria has sent
delegations to study our broadband phenomenon." (Townsend, Feb 23, 2005).
uses of new technologies and the evolution and rate of related
they differ in emphasis, both contextualize technology relative to
human action, social
relationships and culture (Lievrouw, 2002). The current study
from both approaches.
It appears natural for communication scholars to apply the diffusion model in
their investigations of the adoption of the new media mainly because
it was formulated
several decades ago from research on the spread of technological
diffusion of innovation paradigm provides a systematic demand side
explanation of when
and how newly introduced technologies are communicated, evaluated, adopted or
rejected, and re-evaluated over time by consumers (Rogers, 1983 &
1995). The diffusion
process is concerned primarily as a process of information exchange
which is facilitated
by mass media and by interpersonal channels within the social system
(Rogers & Singhal,
1996). In fact, the diffusion of new information and communication
has been studied most extensively in sociology, communication
research and economics,
whereas technology has usually been treated as an exogenous factor in
The diffusion theory treats innovation as a given3; it focuses on the
impact in social systems, emphasizes individual traits, assumes
innovations are unitary and stable phenomena throughout the diffusion
process, or depicts
the process as linear. In so doing, the diffusion theory as a whole
does not weigh
socioeconomic influences as much as other factors that the SST
approach takes into
Several areas of theory and research coexist under the umbrella of
3 Fewer than one in ten new consumer products succeeds, according to
Schiffman et al, (1997, 498).
of technology, with technological determinism as an inadequate
explanation of social
change. SST emphasizes the importance of human choices and action in
change, rather than seeing technology as politically and ethically
neutral. By emphasizing
the influence of society on technology, rather than the reverse, SST
has attempted to
understand the complicated society-technology relationship. Although
the direction of
causality has been reversed in the SST perspective, this hypothesis
is still a linear
explanation of technology adoption and use.
Actor-network theory (ANT) rejects both strong technological determinism, on
the one hand, and the strong social constructivist argument, on the
other. This approach
considers people, technology, and institutions alike as forces that
have equal potential to
influence technological development. Neither technology push nor
consumer pull can
fully account for the shaping of technology. In other words,
technologies and people alike
should be treated as interrelated nodes in constantly changing
networks, which constitute the forms and uses of technology
differently in different time
and places for different groups.
When we look at overall communications media from a research perspective,
projections used to be made mainly by marketing firms even before the
technology, or a
medium, or service is available in the marketplace. Then, a medium
was introduced to the
market, the research interest move to diffusion/adoption patterns by
researches and academic researches. Once the medium is in place,
however, the research
focus shifts from adoption to usage and effects. While both usage
patterns and effects are
favorite research topics for the academia, marketing researches seem
to prefer usages to
effects. Given this general research preference trend, it is quite
natural not to have many
academic studies on the diffusion of broadband yet.
B. Review of Literature
Hausman (2002) examined current regulatory regime, which mandates wholesale
unbundling of telco networks and retail price control while largely
exempting cable from
retail or wholesale regulation in the US. He found that Korean
households have far more
DSL connections than cable modems, while cable modems outnumber DSL
in the US. One reason for this disparity is that the Korean telephone
company is not
required to unbundle its local lines to allow other companies to use
its facilities to deliver
digital service. On the other hand, cable companies can lease Korea
infrastructure to offer cable modem service without regulation. Other
reasons for the
success of broadband access to the Internet are the service's low
price and the built-in
access in Korea's numerous high-rise apartment complexes.
Han (2003) claimed that broadband is not just a new medium technology but also
a PC-like enabling infrastructure which requires a broader
interdisciplinary approach both
in research and public policy-making process. He argued that both
stumbling blocks in the adoption process must be considered with a
special attention to
cultural variables such as different policy making models and
different characteristics of
consumers. Han also claimed that the role of government policy should
depending on the different stages of broadband diffusion process.
Beardsley et al. (2003) examined broadband penetration at the global level and
found that broadband is actually on track to become one of the
offerings ever in certain markets. In the US, broadband reached the 25 percent
penetration mark more quickly than either PCs or mobile telephones
did. They predict
that broadband Internet will become a more important marketing,
sales, distribution, and
communications platform for all industries; that media and
entertainment are the
industries most obviously affected by this trend; and that it is not
yet clear what kind of
content and services non-media companies might provide through broadband.
Odlyzko (July 2003) argued that broadband is full of puzzles and paradoxes,
which suggest caution before taking any drastic action. Despite the
dismay over the slow
pace at which broadband is advancing in the US, broadband penetration
is extremely fast
by most standards, faster than cell phone diffusion at a comparable
stage. Considering the
dynamics in the financial market, broadband access may arrive sooner
However, fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) might not become widespread,
considering the cost
effectiveness of deployment and the monopoly potential as an omnibus pipe.
According to Kwak et al. (2004), while narrowband and broadband technologies
share the essential characteristics of new information technology,
progress to a more
advanced Internet technology should not be considered a linear
transition. Instead, they
argue, changes due to advances in the different stages of Internet
connection are unique to
each technical advance. They found that the main advantage of
broadband over dial-up is
in the domain of multimedia content where the speed of information
flow makes crucial
difference; thus, for consumers of mostly textual content, broadband
could be just a
matter of convenience. They conclude that broadband may not
facilitate the "virtual
circle," in the way that the news media further activate those who
are already most
politically active. This is because potential gains of the advance
from narrowband to
broadband are most likely to be in the entertainment domain.
Ferguson (2004) analyzed a market failure and a policy dilemma broadband
technology in the US by focusing on the impact of structural problems
not only in the
telecommunications and media industries but also in political and
The author argued that the broadband deployment problem in the US is
the result of a
form of "crony capitalism" in what has remained largely a monopoly
industry, and that
the current federal policy-making and regulatory system has severe
problems that make it
politically, administratively, and logistically difficult to do
better than the status quo.
Under the belief that the overarching goal of any broadband policy
should be the
establishment of a competitive, open-architecture industry, 11 policy
for achieving the policy goal are provided.
As an effort to construct a framework for modeling the determinants
penetration in the US, Flamm (2004) identified local telephone
competition and state
policy as the two most important factors affecting penetration of
underserved areas. Paradoxically, income and population density, most
with broadband penetration, seem to be among the least important
broadband penetration. He also argues that the eRate program does not
appear to play a
statistically significant role in encouraging broadband use.
C. The TPC Model
Han (2003) proposed the TPC model - a simple model for the analysis of the
adoption process of communications media in general and broadband in
basic assumption of the TPC model is that technology is an extension
of people, and that
technology itself is a necessary but insufficient condition for the
adoption of a new
service. Therefore, we would look at not only supply/ push side but
side, all in a cultural context.
[Figure 1] shows the nexus between technology as an industry, users as
consumers and policy as an influence. All of these elements are
affected by culture in a
specific society. In this sense, this study weighs more on
macro-level over micro-level
analysis by taking a holistic approach to the relationship between
technology and society.
Covering micro-level analysis is beyond the scope and the purpose of
this paper. Also,
we cover only two parts of the three areas of analysis (P and C, not
T) due to the limited
space. But the comparative analysis of broadband from technological
provided as a summary table in the appendix.
HERE, [Figure 1]. Factors Affecting the Adoption of Broadband (See appendix)
Technological progresses in ICT begin with a breakthrough in some
form of basic
hardware (including physical infrastructure), followed by a period
applications appropriate for the hardware/infrastructure were
developed. Once any
electronic medium technology is introduced into a market, it must be
infused with human
expression – information or actual human beings. In a broader sense,
technology is an
extension of human life. While all the factors mentioned are
interdependent, many are
3. PUBLIC POLICY
A. Overall Regulatory Structure
A series of competing broadband bills have been introduced in US Congress with
the intention of sorting out competition and speeding consumer
adoption of broadband
Internet service. But the implementation of the US broadband policy
is less likely to
speed up the rule-making process due to the conflict between the
'constrained vision' and
'unconstrained vision' among the bills introduced and at other
regulatory levels, bills like
those related to Internet taxation and associated competition and
regulation which reflect
the complexity of conflicting views, or rigidity, of the overall US
under the tradition of check-and-balance and unique features of the
US political system
such high entry costs, lobbying and pervasive monopoly which have resulted in
consumers seeing little in the way of competition and innovation in
local phone and data
Unlike the US, the executive branch comes first in Korea, and
Within the executive branches, the MIC and the Ministry of Travel and
are two leading policy makers in ICT including broadcasting. In
theory, the MIC takes
charge of deploying the overall telecommunications infrastructure,
whereas the MTC
oversees the contents thereof. In practice, these two ministries (and
compete fiercely for hegemony in the policy making process.
Competition among other
Korean government branches has also been inevitable because the ICT
is positioned at
the center for funding.4 The MIC especially has been at the center of
overall ICT projects.
This seemingly undesirable competition also expedited the implementation of
broadband. In the ICT sector, MIC strives to not only deploy
infrastructure but also supports the development of computer software
The MCT, based on its strong connection and experience with the media
been aggressive in its promotion policy for movies, TV programs, and
The other ministries are scrambling to offer different ICT projects.
As a result of severe
competition among the industry players and the government branches,
Korea has become
the best test-bed for ICT in a global sense. Unfortunately, or
perhaps fortunately, the role
of both Congress and court systems in Korea has been substantially
4 Governmental competition results in the redundancy of projects and
balkanization of the budget and
talented people as evidenced in the cable television and DBS policies
in both Korea and France in the late
1970s and early 1980s (Han, 1998).
with the US. Instead, labor union has its unique power structure in
Emerging converged media services keep on providing new conflicts
B. Broadband Policy vs. ICT Policy
The FCC 's online homepage shows broadband at the top of its strategic goals
(www.fcc.gov). While broadband deregulation legislation appears
"mired in a legislative
quagmire," the FCC has been taking numerous actions to promote competition and
expand investment in the field of broadband (need citation). During
the late 1990s, the
FCC approved several large and controversial cable mergers. The
center of contention
then was whether the FCC would require large consolidate cable
companies to provide
unaffiliated ISPs with nondiscriminatory access to their cable
distribution networks, a
requirement modeled on Section 251. The FCC rejected the 'open
access' arguments in
favor of the cable companies promises to invest in massive build-outs
of their networks;
as a result of $95 billion network upgrade by the cable industry
between 1996 and 2004,
cable has had the upper hand in the broadband wars.
In the Triennial Review Order issued in February 2003, FCC rejected similar
arguments and accepted similar promises from the RBOCs in issuing a
aimed at blunting cable's potential dominance in emerging broadband
markets. (18 FCC
Rcd 16978 (2003). In August 2004, the FCC ruled that loops serving
MDUs would be exempt from Section 251. Reaction from the Bells has
been swift and
high-profile as we see SBC's Project LightSpeed and Verizon's FiOS.
In October 2004,
the agency issued a decision designed to upset the cable/telco
duopoly in broadband by
permitting utility companies to carry digital data on their electric
wires, using a
technology called broadband over power lines, or BPL.
However, promoting the supply side alone can hardly be effective enough to
accelerate the adoption process because broadband is not only a
technology but also a
utility-like service. Many US Internet users still do not view
broadband as an absolutely
necessary thing, so there is a basic demand curve at work. Customers
must be able to see
the value of broadband service, and businesses must be able to sell
it at profit. The
consumer has been largely ignored by the US regulatory policy makers as they
traditionally focus on the supply side.
In the 1980s and 1990s, led by pressures of technological change and by the
example of US policy, Korean government began to privatize its Korea
and to open its telecommunications industries to competition. The
implemented by the Korean government falls into three categories: (1)
promotion of the
technology development, (2) introduction of competition, and (3)
training programs for
both the technology-push side as well as the consumer-pull side.
Instead of implementing the broadband policy independently from other
the Korean government has integrated broadband into the larger scheme
of ICT policy.
Korea was able to develop and commercialize strategically important
ICTs. The first
successful case was to develop TDX-1 in the 1980s. The success of
this project enabled
both the industry and the government to take on many large-scale technology
development projects like CDMA, memory chips, TFT-LCD, broadband
satellite transmission equipment and digital TV. Along with the
efforts to develop high-
tech industry, Korea adopted a competition model and revised and
enacted a series of
The introduction of competition among the industry players created the sudden
surge of demand for ICT. The promise of profit making was a big
incentive for the
service providers to enter the market, thereby creating a fiercely
environment. Then, by forcing incumbents to open their copper wires to other
competitors, new entrants could offer DSL over these wires. While this policy
encouraged the cable companies to compete against the telephone
industry by offering
cable modems, the bigger incentive for the competitive environment
was the lending plan
for the competitors at the lowest rate. Due to this competitive
market environment, the
service providers had little choice but to maintain low
telecommunication tariffs, which
attracted an enormous number of subscribers.
Finally, the Internet training program under the Cyber Korea 21 Initiative
provided a sufficient, but not necessary, economic condition for
Korea to become the
most highly wired nation. The MIC offered Internet and computer
literacy programs to 10
million Koreans, including housewives, military personnel, the
physically challenged and
inmates in prison and juvenile correction centers. The government
certificate programs for the military personnel and inmates to
facilitate a smoother
transition upon reentry into civilian society. Such training of
general population is
extremely valuable and effective since it not only provides more
certified technicians but
also creates a huge market demand.
5 In 1995, Korea enacted the Basic Law on Informatization Promotion,
followed in 1996 by establishing the
Information and Promotion Fund. In 1997, Korea formed its first
Inter-ministerial Informatization Strategy
Council chaired by the President. The government also established the
Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) in the late 1970s for
ICT research and development, and the
Korea Information Society Development Institute (KISDI) in the mid
80s as a think tank for ICT policy.
The MIC also placed an emphasis on creating Internet-friendly classrooms at
every level of schooling. This policy accelerated broadband adoption
at home because
virtually no parent could say no if their children who had
experienced the fast-speed at
school said broadband was good for education, especially given the
extremely high fever
for education and the "me-too" tendency amongst Koreans. In this
environment, it was
natural for the industry to train their own workforce. In the year
2000 alone, Korea
Telecom trained 2,500 technicians to install DSL.
C. The Industry initiative vs. the Government lead
In early 2005, Silicon Valley technology chiefs proposed a seven
point plan that
the US lead innovation to stay ahead of countries such as India,
China, Japan, and Korea.
Each of the six principles in the proposal contains the industry
initiatives, not government
leadership, although they ask for government support.
At the same time, big communications companies spent more than $1.1 billion in
their efforts to elect lawmakers and influence the government over
the past half a decade.
The Center for Public Integrity found that the communication industry
spent $957 million
to lobby Congress and the FCC from 1998 through June 2004, compared
with the oil and
gas industry's $386 million. Traditional telephone companies spent
the most on lobbying
by ponying up nearly $500 million to influence government officials.
$222.3 million, and cable operators spent $119.9 million on influence
Oct 28, 2004). The 4 Bells6 have given the White House, Senate, and
House a total of $4
million in contributions in the 2004 election cycle, four times as
much as the three big
6 These deep-pocked companies are essentially local service
monopolies with strong ties to the
communities they serve, and they employ battalions of lobbyists and
lawyers across the country. Few
industries can match the Bell's deep-touch approach, where company
reps identify promising young
politicians and support them as they rise. Bell reps are so rooted in
their communities that many of their
employees run for local office.
long-distance carriers combines, according to the Center for
Responsive Politics (Yang,
June 15, 2004).
In South Korea, the government, rather than the industry, made an
all-out effort to
nurture the ICT sector and digitize the nation. As James Larson at
Commission notes, crucial policy decisions by top technocrats, who
were educated in the
US and returned to Korea to work in the telecommunications field,
were vital for the
rapid deployment and uptake of broadband in Korea (Broadband Internet, May 14,
One of the most successful policy cases occurred in the 1980s, when
$40 million to develop TDX-1. In 1996, Korea was successful in making the CDMA
technology a commercially viable mobile communication system after a
Korea became the first country in the world to commercialize the
third generation of
mobile communication service (CDMA2000-1x). This technological
not have been achieved without strong and passionate leadership by
combined with the diligence and dynamics of the industry.
Despite the rapid changes in technology and diversifying needs in connecting
people and businesses, Korea Telecom commanded the most powerful
position in the
telecommunications industry until the mid-1980s. The Korean
three-step restructuring plan in July 1990 to boost competitiveness
in both fixed-line and
mobile markets through deregulation and the affirmation of free
market principles. Under
the initiative, Dacom and Korea Mobile Telecommunications, now SK
established to offer data and mobile communication services,
7 Many corporate regulations have been eased in many other ministries
after the 1997-98 financial crisis,
whereas the MIC still has "visible hands" to control
Telecom was encouraged to focus on its fixed-line business. As the
number of mobile
phone subscribers outnumbered that of fixed-line customers in 1999,
KT responded to the
faltering fixed-line performance immediately by upgrading its own
contributed to the successful uptake of broadband Internet access.8
The foundation of Korea's broadband success began when the government took
aggressive steps to spur the nation's telecom industry by
establishing a Basic Plan for the
Korean Information Infrastructure (KII) project in 1993. In
particular, a sense of urgency
during the IMF crisis in 1997 and 1998 spurred Koreans on to new
technology even more
aggressively, because they sensed the old economic model had failed
them. As a solution
to overcome the crisis, broadband, a new infrastructure, created a
new market with new
demand for modems, routers, servers, and computers.9 However, there
conflicts among the stakeholders, particularly in the area of
emerging media such as IPTV
8 In fact, the government wanted Korea Telecom to continue handling
the data and mobile businesses, but
KT did not accept the government original idea because of the
business uncertainty. Ironically, however,
SK Telecom emerged as KT's biggest competitor.
9 The government spent billions of dollars building a fiber grid,
reaching schools and government
buildings, and offered another billion in financial incentives to
phone companies that strung broadband
links to homes. The national network accounted for 13.5 percent of
the country's economy during
construction. In addition, Korean people took advantage of the
busting of the US tech bubble in 2000 to
buy equipment on the cheap from the likes of Nortel, Juniper Network,
Cisco Systems, and Riverstone
10 Digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) enables users on the move to
enjoy crystal-clear video, CDquality
audio and data through hand-held terminals like cell phones and PDAs.
Two versions of mobilityspecific
broadcasting - satellite-based (S-DMB) and terrestrial-based (T-) DMB
– are competing with both
services due in May 2005.
T-DMB is expected to start the mobility-specific services with a
maximum of 6 video, 18 audio and 3
data channels in 7 different areas from May 2005. At the end of March
2005, the KBC selected six DMB
licenses: three for terrestrial broadcasters (KBS, SBS, and MBC) and
three other players (YTN, KMMB,
CBS) (Free-mobile B, March 28, 2005).
T-DMB is offspring of DTV transmission format disputes and basically
it was devised to enable people
on the move to enjoy digital TV programs. Korea opted for a US format
as a national standard in 1997 but a
handful of over-the-air broadcasters took issue with the system's
inability to send signals to mobile
receivers and suggested alternative European system in 2001. After a
three-year futile standoff, the
government and broadcasters agreed to introduce T-DMB for mobile
watchers while maintaining the US
format as a DTV signal standard.
Broadband use: Broadband access is available to practically everyone
in the US.
However, less than 40 percent of over the 107 million US households
DSL or cable modem service. So it appears that the US broadband
adoption is less
relevant to availability alone. Then why does it take longer or
slower than expected to
adopt the service?
According to a study done by Yankee Group, the top reasons for subscribing to
broadband are: not tying up the phone line (52 percent) and wanting a
connection to the Internet (51 percent) (Bischoff, July 2002). A
survey by the Pew
Internet and American Life Project reports that broadband users value
speed itself and
convenience rather than content. In addition to consumers' pricing
June 2002; The hard sell, Feb 2002; Bischoff, July 2002), Rappoport
et al. (2002)
concluded that although socioeconomic factors including income and
education levels are
important determinants of broadband Internet demand, Internet end-use
factors are also
In contrast to the US, seven out of ten (31.6 million Internet users out of 45
million people aged six and above)11 South Koreans go online
periodically, according to
a MIC study released in January 2005.12 While youngsters led the
Internet fever in the
past, people in the 40s and 50s spearheaded the year-by-year hike in
2004, although few
new users were added in 2004 to those aged between 6 and 29, which
reached to 95.8
11 This 70.2 percent rate would be translated into a 65.2 percent of
ITU standard which compares Internet
users from the overall population.
12 See http://times.hankooki.com/1page/200501/kt2005013115512610230.htm;
percent. Other research shows that the average South Korean Internet
user spends an
amazing 1,340 minutes a month online, compared with 641 for an American.
Pricing and Housing: The Vice Chairman of Verizon at the 2002 Supercom said
that DSL prices could be 30 to 40 percent higher than they were if
the carrier based its
prices strictly on the cost of providing the service. The housing
preference of US
consumers is closely related to the carrier's cost sensitivity of
upgrading local loops. A
study shows that 55 percent of US rural ILEC PoPs (Point of Presence)
are more than 70
miles away from the closest backbone provider node. This is
interpreted that backhaul
costs range from $53 per line at 5 percent penetration to $36 a line
at 15 percent DSL
penetration (Kim, Dec 2001).
South Korea's 15 million households are highly concentrated in several
metropolitan areas in the land of 38,000 square miles – only 1/100th
the size of the US or
4 percent the size of China, Almost one fourth of the Korean
population resides in Seoul.
More than half of the population lives in some form of MDUs, mostly
apartment complexes. The result of quick, cheap and easy installation
was led to fierce competition between cable and DSL providers – over
2 million DSL
connections were installed during the year 2000 alone, resulting in
subscriber fees of less
than $30 a month, compared to almost $50 in the US. Top Korean
reached break-even points soon by reducing the installation cost from
$700 per DSL line
in the initial stage to less than $100 as subscribers increase.
However, high population
density or small size of Korean territory alone can hardly be the
contributing factor for
the rapid deployment of the broadband. Canada with its huge land and
is still far ahead of the US.
Meanwhile, the broadband access in the US has been adopted as quickly as even
the non-networked technologies. Studies show that US consumers are
broadband service at a faster pace, compared to CD players, cell
phones, color TVs or
home video players. Broadband access in the US reached 15 percent
level within 4 years.
It is important to remember here that these technologies do not
require any networked
infrastructure.13 The claim of "slow adoption" is valid only when the
number is compared
to other countries such as Korea, Germany, Sweden, Canada, etc.
Consumer Preference/Behavior: South Koreans have very sophisticated consumer
tastes and preferences. Sales of premium whisky are increasing with
rates. Premium shampoos have also taken about 30 percent of the total
priced anti-aging cosmetics have positioned as strong players in the
market. Then, it is
not surprising to find that multinational cosmetic firms regard
Korean women as one of
the most difficult consumer segments due to their sensitive and
(Kwon, June 2002).
When it comes to mobile applications and gadgets, Koreans are more delicate
than Europeans and North Americans. The public beta nature of Korea's
consumption can be found most vividly in cell phones, on which
replacement rate runs an
estimated 6 to 18 months. Competition among cell phone manufacturers
to bring a new
model to market is really intense. The cell phone market in Korea is
six months or a year
ahead of the rest of the world. Even American companies' early market
is going to be
South Korea, if they want to innovate.
13 As Susan Hadden (1991) claims, adoption of post-infrastructure
technologies (those that draw on existing
connections and wires at home) occurs at a more rapid rate than for
the three technologies that require new
wiring (electricity, telephone, and cable TV.
American and Korean culture differs not only in language or meals but also the
way they use cell phones. Cultural differences in audio and
text-based communication via
cell phones will be even more diversified and widened as 3G phones
are adding pictures
and moving images to the current differences.
Education: Korea's high and sustained level of investment in
both the technical expertise needed to build telecommunications
industries as well as social and cultural environment suitable for
rapid adoption of new
communications tools and services. The ratio of education cost to the
expenditure among South Koreans reached 5.8 percent in 2003
April 5, 2004), compared with Americans' less than 2 percent in 2003
(Johnson, Feb 7,
2005). In 2004, 390,000 South Koreans' spent $51.5 billion for
education in abroad
(Education service, Feb 7, 2005). Then, it sounds natural that
crucial policy decisions by
top technocrats, majority of them were educated in the US and
returned to Korea, were
vital for the deployment and uptake of broadband in Korea.
Baangs and Games: The seemingly overnight emergence of online gaming serves
as a successful case study in South Korea's drive to strengthen its
flagging economy with
new technologies. An unprecedented program to build a national
broadband network has
provided the fast Internet connections required for online gaming to
thrive. In just a few
years, online games have become serious competition to movies for
in South Korea.
Internet cafés, called PC-baangs, are popular hangouts and are
credited for the
real power behind the success story of South Korea to be the world's
hotbed of online
gaming. While baangs are popular with gaming clans today, the notion
of third spaces
and rented rooms go back to tea bangs in the 14th century, pool bangs
flourished in the
1960s, and sing-along baangs today. Koreans are not about me doing
some thing, they are
about us doing things together. The paradigmatic example is a cell
phone that has a deal
with an online video game, and has a one-touch feature to alert your
friends if you're
online and it will SMS them, telling them where you are in the online
world and that you
Homogeneity and Dynamism:: The transition of the country from people of "white
clothes" to "red shirts" marks a change from politeness and calm in
the past to passion
and dynamism in contemporary society. Korea was once called the land
of the morning
calm, but the fans at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and at World Cup
other relatively recent events, have challenged that narrow
dynamism of Koreans can be found not only in the ICT areas but also
in all popular
performances, including music, TV drams and movies.
The following four implications were drawn by examining the
experiences of both
policy push/supply and consumers pull/demand in the US and in South Korea,
• The government's role in the adoption of the high-speed access to
Despite ongoing debates on the role of government in the diffusion process of
broadband, it is critical for the government to provide not only the
infrastructure but also
a "fertilized soil." Therefore, the broadband gap between the US and
Korea can better be
explained by ideological differences in policy-making, a cultural
preference for speed
itself, and by the "do-everything-together" climate among Koreans.
However, Korea as
the ICT dynasty could have not been a reality if the government had
not cultivated such
As the regulatory boundaries have become less clear than ever, competition and
disputes between the two Korean ministries have also become more
evident than ever. It
is interesting to observe which regulatory model works better in the
age of convergence:
Congress' strong leadership with the integrated regulatory power of
the FCC under the
same roof, or the executive branches' strong leadership with
distributed regulatory power
among different ministries? Or perhaps a combination of these two models?
• Different killer applications in the different stages of the
Once service is available, price and speed are the most important
the broadband adoption early on. As the first stage moves to the next
applications based upon diversified contents will be more critical
than before. However,
the price is always important and needs to be tiered or bundled for
advanced users in the
mass market, which will lead to better customer service. While many
experts point out
the lack of killer applications in the US, the real killer
application of the early stage is not
much related content-oriented applications, rather more related to
the fast speed itself,
and 'always-on feature– new functions added to the narrowband service
by the broadband
technology. It is worthwhile to remember that the first problem of
the videotext was how
to direct the user to the information as quickly as possible, rather
than as fanciful as
If the Internet is a functional extension of the telephone with
content, both speed
and content are still critical. When multimedia or rich-media content
is critical, faster
speed will be a must. As long as dial-up users are satisfied by
switching to the broadband will take longer. This is a good example
alternatives in telecommunications. Conversely, when multimedia
content on the Web
becomes more available and popular and the price gap between broadband and
narrowband becomes marginal, this functional alternative theory may become
The primary economic cause of inequality in Internet access is less
the cost of
computers or unequal access to computers than the local
telecommunications cost in the
US, increasingly driven by the cost of broadband services. In the US,
the cost of local
telecommunication services is now the largest financial and economic
universal Internet access (Ferguson, 2004, 8).
• Global competitiveness
ICT is widely considered one of the fastest-moving and leading drivers of
globalization. Thus, broadband policy has important implications for
integration. According to Douglas McWilliams at the Centre for
Economics and Business
Research in the UK, "Over the next 20 years broadband will have a
similar impact on the
economy to that of the introduction of electricity from 1890-1920"
(Wearden, Nov 19,
2003).14 John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, argued that broadband should be
priority this century "just like putting a man on the moon was an
imperative in the last
century" (Papalardo & Martin, Jan 2002).
The World Economic Forum's latest annual Global IT Report released early
March 2005 reveals that the US dropped from first to fifth in the
rankings. Whether the
end of US's three years as number one is less due to actual erosion
in performance with
14 John Kerry during his Presidential campaign also declared that
broadband was as important to the future
of the economy as electricity. (Borland, July 27, 2004).
respect to its past history, or more to continuing improvements by
its competitors, the fact
is that Singapore, Iceland, Finland, and Denmark have displaced the
US as the top
economy in IT competitiveness.15 Even someone asks "Is Silicon Valley
Detroit? (Lohr, March 28, 2005). In this context, can US private
industries do provide
universal broadband service themselves, or will it take a regulatory
prod to get there?
• Korea as the best test-bed for ICT projects and future research
The MIC aims to attract five research centers in Seoul area from world-leading
info-tech firms per annum for the next 8 years. In 2004 alone, the
ministry drew in five
research investments from such well-known companies as Intel,
Fraunhofer, IBM, HP
and Siemens. Micro Soft also opened its Mobile Innovation Lab at the
headquarters of its
Korean affiliate in southern Seoul to develop technology for wireless
devices, and will
invest up to $39 million over the next three years (MS opens, March
7, 2005; Information
Ministry, Feb 2, 2005).
Considering the well-established ICT infrastructure in Korea, it is
global firms, policy makers as well as academic researchers to
recognize that Korea is the
best test bed and real field for the future research. The overall
of Korea can hardly be matched by other nations. There are many more mobile
subscribers than landline phone users in Korea. More than 80 percent
of the whole
population uses the mobile phone service, over 76 percent of
households are connected to
broadband, and over 10 million mobile Internet subscribers are using
the 3G phone
service. Korea is moving towards an even more advanced next
generation mobile service
15 Singapore surpasses U.S. as top tech nation.
As for full report, go to .
such as BcN,16 DMB17 and Wi-Bro. Many of these phenomena will be
future trends in
other countries. Korea will provide the best opportunity to
investigate, test, and study the
economic, social, and cultural impact of mobile phones.
The information society has been with us for decades as topic for
discussions or a
theory, rather than as a reality. It is believed that Korea offers
ample reasons for all
different levels and areas of professionals to investigate: What are
important factors for
Korea, a country with 7 percent telephone penetration even in the
late 1970s, to become a
digital powerhouse so rapidly? What socio-cultural factors, along
with policy factors,
have contributed most to the informatization process? What
socio-cultural factors are and
are not applicable to other countries, and why?
16 Korea now hopes to widen its already sizable lead in broadband
through the establishment of broadband
convergence network (BcN). The government expects to generate $7.7
billion in private sector investment
to develop the BcN's infrastructure and applications. The government
is also planning high-tech industrial
test-beds in Seoul and Daejon by the second half of the year
(Government plans, Mar 21, 2005). When the
project ends in 2010, the integrated network runs at the speed of 50
to 100 mbps. The original three
consortiums were expanded in March 2005 to four when the MIC
additionally approved Cable Consortium
as a new licensee for the first phase BcN trials (Cable consortium,
March 21, 2005).
17 TU Media started a pilot run of the cell phone-based S-DMB service
from January 2005 with 3 video
channels and 6 audio channels. The full-blown commercial launch of
S-DMB is scheduled for May 2005
with 14 video broadcasts and 24 audio channels across the country by
TU media, which looks up to sign up
customers with $20 one-off subscription fee and $13 monthly charges.
v. time Public infra
REGULATION Need v.
want N rate equity
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