October 25, 2021
On the heels of Netflix’s global hit “Squid Game,” a legal battle between the world’s largest subscription streaming operator and a South Korean ISP has reignited the debate over net neutrality laws in the country.
Specifically, SK Broadband, the high-speed internet distributor of SK Telecom in South Korea, recently filed a countersuit against Netflix demanding the streamer pay for increased usage put on the network by its programs such as “Squid Game,” “Kingdom,” “#Alive,” “Itaewon Class,” “Sweet Home” and “D.P.,” among others.
In late June, the Seoul Central District Court dismissed Netflix’s claim and ruled that SK Broadband had the legal right to seek compensation — an amount to be determined through negotiation between the two companies.
Currently, Netflix doesn’t pay for its 3.8 million subscribers using upwards of 10% of South Korea’s broadband capacity streaming “Squid Game,” the horror-themed dystopian game show that has been watched by more than 142 million Netflix households since launching Sept. 17.
The debate has also ushered in political action within the government regarding tax payments and other expenses foreign companies generate doing business in the country.
In an Oct. 24 blog post, Dean Garfield, VP, global public policy at Netflix, argues SK Broadband’s fiscal demands would stifle Netflix’s ability to make a profit in the region, in addition to the streamer’s ongoing investment in local content production — it values at more than $1 billion.
“‘Squid Game’ is just the beginning,” Garfield wrote. “We appreciate what Koreans have long understood. There is so much more where this story came from. But, unfortunately we have come to a crossroads … where internet gatekeepers could get to decide if the next great Korean story can be watched, and loved, by the world. Why would anyone want that? That is the question.”
To counter claims worldwide that Netflix’s popularity puts strains on local ISP networks, the streamer has long advocated ISPs employ its free open-connect cache servers to help alleviate the strain its subscriber’s usage. It enables Netflix content to be stored as close as possible to subscriber homes, avoids clogging up the internet, saving ISPs upwards of $1.2 billion in related usage costs, according to the streamer.
“The overwhelming majority of our ISP partners around the world use Open Connect, because why wouldn’t they?” writes Garfield. “We deliver it to them for free. It’s proven to reduce at least 95% of network traffic, leaving lots of room for other content to go through.”
Meanwhile, some South Korean lawmakers allege Netflix has shifted much of its localized revenue to a Dutch holding company to reduce its tax burden. Netflix in 2020 generated about 415.4 billion won ($355 million) in revenue, realizing a profit of $7.5 million. Lawmakers contend Netflix reduced its tax burden to 2.1 billion won ($1.8 million) through its offshore accounting maneuver.