South Korean ISP sues Netflix over bandwidth for popular shows like Squid Game

Neither Netflix nor YouTube pays network fees in the republic, but other media companies do.
Neither Netflix nor YouTube pays network fees in the republic, but other media companies do. Photo credit: Getty Images

South Korean survival show Squid Game has been making waves on social media around the world as the latest binge-worthy streaming drama.

But one Korean ISP is using its success to demand money from Netflix for the cost of the data used by customers watching both it and D.P., another popular show in the republic.

In the US Squid Game ranked number one in Netflix's rankings just four days after its premiere, faster than any other non-English programme. It is expected to be seen by more than 82 million subscribers worldwide in its first 28 days, Fortune reported.

But that popularity comes at a cost - and not just for subscribers. For ISPs, the bandwidth associated with such numbers can be substantial.

The amount of data SK Broadband has seen from Netflix has increased by 24 times since May, 2018, the company said. That means in September it handled 1.2 trillion bits of data processed per second, citing the success of both Squid Game and D.P..

SK Broadband is now suing the streaming giants for the increased network costs and maintenance required because of that increase in viewers.

A court in Seoul has previously said it was "reasonable" to expect Netflix to pay something in return for the traffic. It's the biggest data traffic generator in South Korea, ahead of YouTube.

Neither of those companies pay network fees, but Amazon, Facebook and Apple do, SK said.

Netflix argued in a lawsuit it brought last year it simply created content and made it accessible, and asked the court to rule on whether it had any obligation to pay SK Broadband.

But that decision went against the company in June, with SK estimating the network usage fee should have been around US$22.9 million in 2020 alone.

And now it's trying to make sure Netflix pays up after Seoul Central District Court said it was "obligated to provide something in return for the service".

Netflix told website The Verge it will review the claim filed against it, while telling Reuters it contributed to 16,000 jobs in South Korea from US$650 million worth of investment.

"In the meantime, we continue to seek open dialogue and explore ways of working with SK in order to ensure a seamless streaming experience for our shared customers," a spokesperson said.

Netflix has appealed the original ruling, with a new court date set for December.