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Image of Open Net's 10th anniversary celebrations, courtesy their website

Open Net, an APC network member in South Korea, has dedicated itself to making the internet a platform for freedom, openness and sharing. Last month, on 8 March 2024, the non-profit organisation marked its 10th anniversary with a celebration at its Seoul office. Several collaborators who have worked with Open Net through the years reflected on their collective journey and discussed what might come next. Several international allies were also invited to share short videos or messages to commemorate the anniversary.

Some of Open Net’s recent actions have included lobbying for digital rights in Vietnam in preparation for the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the country, leading discussions on AI digital textbooks and Southeast Asian democracy, and advocating South Korea’s National Assembly to abolish the criminal truth defamation law.

We interviewed Kyoungmi Oh, researcher at Open Net, on this landmark occasion and how the organisation is reflecting on its decade of achievements to forge new paths ahead.

What inspired Open Net 10 years ago – how did it go from an idea to an organisation?

Open Net started after a civic movement around a Constitutional Complaint. South Korea once had a real-name law that required individuals to verify their resident registration number when posting on internet sites with an average of more than 100,000 daily users. This regulation, implemented with the intention of promoting accountability, faced opposition from civil society organisations, academics, and internet-related companies who believed it infringed on citizens’ freedom of expression. After filing a Constitutional Complaint, their efforts bore fruit when the Constitutional Court [struck down] the internet real-name law in August 2012, leading to its abolition five years after its implementation.

In the wake of this landmark decision, [those] who had engaged in the Constitutional Complaint united to form a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to fostering an open and free internet environment. This organisation was Open Net.

What has been the achievement you are most proud of in Open Net’s 10 years?

In the past 10 years, we can proudly point to two significant achievements in South Korea’s digital landscape. First, the abolition of the internet real-name law, which infringed on people’s freedom of political speech.

Secondly, net neutrality in South Korea. In 2013, mobile operators like KT and SKT Telecom partially restricted access to Kakao’s Voice Talk service, citing loss of their voice revenue. Open Net filed a suit and they restored traffic.

The South Korean government [also] infringed on net neutrality principles in 2016 with the implementation of the so-called “sender-pay-rule”, which forced internet service providers (ISPs) to pay for outgoing traffic.

In 2022, a bill mandating network usage fees even from content providers was introduced, in  direct violation of net neutrality principles. Open Net organised a petition to stop this measure, garnering an impressive 286,000 signatures – a remarkable feat in South Korea – and the bill was dropped.

What is the most important or useful thing you have learned in 10 years?

We still believe in the power of the internet. The internet is the great equaliser and liberator. People should use it more and we need to remove constraints such as government censorship, coordinated trolling and non-consensual information filtering.

Are there some digital issues that have persisted in the last 10 years, especially in South Korea and Southeast Asia?

In South Korea, there is growing concern over efforts that seriously threaten the principle of net neutrality. The worry stems from the belief that compromising net neutrality will not only erode the foundation of internet users, who are vital sources of diverse and valuable information, but also lead to the fragmentation of the internet itself. Notably, South Korea has enacted [a] legislation that permits the levying of charges on ISPs for internet access. As a civil society organisation acknowledging the power of the internet, we are taking responsibility to vigilantly safeguard net neutrality and prevent the fragmentation of the internet into a patchwork by powerful interests or corporate monopolies.

What is Open Net looking forward to in the coming years? What would it like to focus on?

Given that the issue of network neutrality is ongoing, it will remain a principal concern for Open Net. Furthermore, we are committed to enhancing our unity with countries in Southeast Asia. Our strategy includes setting up a direct line of communication with platform companies to effectively counteract the pressure exerted by governments worldwide on civil society organisations.

Reflecting on Open Net’s journey, what would be your advice or message to other digital and human rights organisations?

Within the global community, Open Net stands as one among many civil society organisations advocating for a more open internet. We call for strengthened collaboration among CSOs to pursue this goal together vigorously.


Gaurav Jain is Lead Editor at APC. He is an award-winning editor, writer and media innovator who co-founded a feminist digital media site and an independent longform media house. He has also been a content and community consultant, literary and investigative journalist, and research manager.