YouTube Lags in South Korea While Internet Zips By

In South Korea where net users are accustomed to whizzing along with one of the fastest Internet connection speeds in the world, YouTube's sluggish performance is a source of constant complaints.

But why does the video-hosting site run so slow compared to the rest of South Korea's Internet? The answer lies in the utter disrespect that South Korea's dominant corporations have for net neutrality.

Net neutrality is a principle defending the free flow of information on the Internet by forbidding Internet service providers from delivering one website faster or slower than another or blocking customers from accessing certain websites. (Read more on South Korea's net neutrality controversy by Global Voices author Jae-Yeon here.)

The emergence of bandwidth-guzzling video websites and software such as YouTube, Netflix, and Skype, which make it difficult or more costly for Internet providers to maintain high speed connections for their customers, have made the issue of net neutrality more important than ever.

Although South Korea proudly promotes itself as one of the most advanced high-tech countries, it has been a cruel place for small tech start-ups that have struggled under the government’s strict guidelines and policies and been squeezed out by a few powerful corporations that control the market. Google and YouTube had butted heads with the South Korean government for not following its attempt to enforce real-name policy.

YouTube by Flickr user codenamecueball (CC BY 2.0).

YouTube by Flickr user codenamecueball (CC BY 2.0).

Korean net user ID:GaedokChoding elaborated [ko] on how a disregard for net neutrality by South Korean Internet providers led to YouTube's slow performance – a version of events [ko] shared by many in the Korean tech community:

1. 유튜브가 한국에 서버를 돌리려고 했음. 2. 인터넷 통신망 회사들이 유튜브가 트래픽 많이 차지하니까 사용료 내라고 압박. 3. 유튜브는, ‘우리 콘텐츠 덕분에 사용자들이 인터넷 신청하고 사용료 내는데 왜 우리가 돈을 냄?'하고 한국에 서버를 마련하지 않음. 4. 그래서 한국에서 유튜브는 해외 서버를 통해 들어옴 5. 그 결과 한국 통신 회사들은 해외 유입 트래픽에 대한 대가를 외국 통신망 회사들에게 지불하게 됨 6. 그래서 한국 유튜브는 느리고 한국 통신 회사는 많은 돈을 외국에 넘기게 되었음

1. YouTube tried to set up their server in South Korea. 2. Internet Service Providers pressured YouTube to pay fee since YouTube sucks up so much traffic. 3. YouTube responded with “why do I have to pay since users subscribe and pay Internet fees to watch our content?” and decided not to install their own server in South Korea. 4. As a result, YouTube in South Korea comes from servers in adjacent countries. 5. Now, Korean Internet service providers have to pay traffic fees to other foreign service providers. 6. The outcome: Korean YouTube slowed down and Korean Internet providers wind up paying lots of money to other nations.

Some have even created cartoons [ko] explaining the source of problem and discussions have formed below the cartoons, with many net users sharing their YouTube experience [ko] in and outside South Korea:

ID 우사우사냥냥: 일본에서 유튜브는 니코니코동화 보다 빠름. 근데 한국 영상은 […]
ID Caspian: 미국 거주중인데 확실히 유투브 빠릅니다… 1080p도 original 화질도 버퍼링 없이 봐요[…] ID Lucis: 이거 맞는말임. 여기 필리핀에서 한국 포털사이트(네이버,다음) 동영상 재생할라면 하루종일걸림. 근데 유투브는 진짜 올려져있는 2시간짜리 영화도 실시간으로 볼수있음. 네이버?다음? 1분짜리 동영상도 10분은 버퍼링해야하는곳이 여기임[…] ID Beef: 근데 이게 진짜 실감할수있는건 해외와서 인터넷을 해봐야됨. 한국 IT 강국에 인터넷 빠름 진짜 빠름. 근데 유튜브는 겁나느림. 근데 한국보다 인터넷느린나라들도 유튜브는 빠름 진짜 빠름

ID UsaUsaNyangNyang: YouTube in Japan can be faster than NicoNico Douga site [popular video-sharing site in Japan]. However, [things are different] when watching Korean video…
ID Caspian: I am now in the United States and YouTube is really fast indeed. I can stream 1080p video with keeping its original resolution.
ID Lucis: This is all true. Here in Philippines, it takes nearly an entire day to stream video on Korean portal sites such as Naver and Daum. However, you can stream a two-hour-long movie seamlessly on YouTube. To compare, a one-minute-long video [on Korean sites such as Naver and Daum] needs ten minutes of buffering to watch.
ID: Beef: You can feel the difference when you use the Internet abroad. In South Korea, despite being a strong tech nation and despite its fast Internet speed, YouTube is freaking slow. How weird it is that YouTube is really fast in other countries, whose Internet speeds are much slower than South Korea's.

Foreigners in South Korea, used to better YouTube performance in other parts of the world, have also commented on it's slow speed, posting on forums seeking an answer.

Blogger DamviWorld criticized [ko] how near-sighted the actions of Korean Internet service providers are:

국내 통신사들은 유투브의 (무료로 네트워크 망을 제공하라는) 요구를 거절했고 유투브는 미련없이 한국을 떠났습니다. 결국 생산자가 우위에 서게 될 것이다란 사실을 그들은 벌써 알고 있었기 때문이죠. 유투브의 한국 이용자는 폭발적으로 증가했고[…] 만약 우리나라 통신사들이 미래를 내다보고 유투브와 유연한 자세로 계약을 했었다면 엄청난 액수의 선로 사용료가 중국과 일본에 해마다 유출되는 일은 없었을 것입니다.

Local communication companies declined YouTube’s request for free network connection and YouTube left Korea without hesitation. Because they knew that content providers will get the upper-hand eventually. The number of Korean YouTube users has increased exponentially indeed.[…] If our communication companies were not so near-sighted, and flexible in negotiations with YouTube, we wouldn't be paying huge sums of money to China and Japan for [using their YouTube servers] for traffic.

The blogger also pointed out that local video-streaming sites, such as Mncast [ko], have gone out of service for huge burdens imposed on them by Internet service providers:

유투브가 한국에서 이처럼 빠르게 확산된 이유에는 국내 토종 동영상 서비스 업체들이 무너졌기 때문인 이유도 있습니다. 국내 업체들은 통신사에 지불하는 엄청난 네트워크 비용을 감당하지 못하고 하나둘 파산했기 때문이죠.

One of the reason how YouTube has expanded rapidly in South Korea is because local video-streaming sites have collapsed. Local companies, after not being able to afford the huge amount of fee for using networks, went bankrupt one by one.


  • […] by Lee Yoo Eun · comments (0) Share: Donate · facebook · twitter · reddit · StumbleUpon · […]

  • Thanks You Eun for your great article. I just add a quick comment. The problem of the control of telcos on Korean Internet goes deeper. For example, In Korea, we have more than 120 ISPs but top 3 ISPs (SKT, KT, and LG U+: telcos!) control more than 85% of the market. In other words, the key question is how Korean network construction happens with high market concentration. I don’t see this is a coincidence. It is a result of the government’s success in deregulation but failing in reregulation. (succeeded in introducing new players but failing in taming the giants.)

  • The fact that how Korea’s government market rules this paradox is easy to know to do some research. But I think a more complicated problem is to clarify what causes this government action. My assumption is the fact that Korean government has used controlled market competition regime to strengthen their telecommunication market affects this situation. In other words, telcos have strong shared interests with the government and it is hard to break that relationship unless a more than equivalent strong political will is introduced to push the reform.

  • […] by Lee Yoo Eun · comments (2) Share: Donate · facebook · twitter · reddit · StumbleUpon · […]

  • […] YouTube Lags in South Korea While Internet Zips By · Global Voices […]

  • […] The average connection is 14 Mbps. So why do Youtube videos take so long to load? The reason is they’re being forced to host their servers in Japan and China because South Korea has completely disregarded Net […]

  • buileshuibhne

    Despite South Korea having this amazing internet backbone, and making great hardware and software, the whole internet experience is in danger of being hobbled by the lack of ability (or willingness) to adapt and move with the times. The Active-X debacle was one manifestation of this. YouTube has – for better or worse – become the standard for online video. This is particularly true in citizen media. All the world’s major media have embraced the idea that YouTube-literacy is an indispensable part of keeping up with developments in the industry. Is South Korea really happy to effectively ‘opt out’ of YouTube?

  • […] thing, internet monopoly has been an on and off issue in the country and has even raised concerns regarding net neutrality.  While the rest of the internet-using world is probably relying on Google, South Koreans continue […]

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