Smart TVs cause a net neutrality debate in S. Korea

Will devices be the next victim in the net neutrality debate?

Remember that whole network neutrality fight in the U.S. from 2009 and 2010? Well back then the issue was over applications hogging precious bandwidth, and ISPs hoping to charge the likes of Google, (s goog) Netflix (s nflx) and others for the increasing traffic running across wireline and wireless pipes. Korea Telecom in South Korea has taken an interesting twist on the idea, and decided to block Samsung’s Smart TVs from accessing the Internet, according to this article from the Maeil Business Newspaper, a large S. Korean daily. That’s right, net neutrality isn’t just for applications anymore.

According to the story, KT cut off Samsung’s Smart TVs Friday morning after a dispute over how much data those TVs consume. From the story:

The dispute has been festering for a while as KT insists smart TVs share the costs of quality maintenance of the internet as they tend to hog the networks, while TV makers argue they have no obligation to do so.

The argument is familiar. Remember this quote from Ed Whitacre when he was the CEO of AT&T (s t)?

“How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?”

Or what about this quote from John Petter, managing director of BT Retail’s consumer business?

“We can’t give the content providers a completely free ride and continue to give customers the [service] they want at the price they expect.”

But this angle of attacking a device seems new and troublesome. It’s unclear if this is a problem in Korea because Samsung is based there and KT feels like it might have less success going after a content provider like Netflix or Google. However, if other ISPs follow suit, would Roku, Boxee or even Smart TV makers such as LG or Vizio be next in line for some form of blocking?