The Associated Press reports foreign visitors to North Korea will have the ability to purchase access to 3G data service on their mobile devices as early as next week:
“Koryolink, a joint venture between Korea Post & Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt’s Orascom Telecom Media and Technology Holding SAE, informed foreign residents in Pyongyang on Friday that it will launch a third generation, or 3G, mobile Internet service no later than March 1.”
This freedom for foreign visitors is in stark contrast to the digital isolation that defines its citizens lives: the only networked access available to the general public is the closed intranet known as “Kwangmyong” started in 2000 — although “central party, national security units, and some Cabinet-level government organizations, as well as foreign diplomatic missions, joint ventures, and foreign individuals staying in Pyongyang can have ‘full but monitored’ access” to the real world wide web.
Google’s Eric Schmidt noted the restricted nature of North Korean’s access to communication technology following his visit last year — as well as how the infrastructure of these closed systems could be easily modified to allow a more democratic information experience:
“There is a 3G network that is a joint venture with an Egyptian company called Orascom. It is a 2100 Megahertz SMS-based technology network, that does not, for example, allow users to have a data connection and use smart phones. It would be very easy for them to turn the Internet on for this 3G network. Estimates are that are about a million and a half phones in the DPRK with some growth planned in the near future.
There is a supervised Internet and a Korean Intranet. (It appeared supervised in that people were not able to use the internet without someone else watching them). There’s a private intranet that is linked with their universities. Again, it would be easy to connect these networks to the global Internet.”
Despite the highly questionable ethics of financially supporting a regime that holds as many as 200,000 people in political prison camps “rife with torture, rape and slave labor” and recently conducted yet another nuclear test much to the dismay of the international community, North Korea claims to be experiencing a tourism boom. While those tourists will undoubtedly appreciate being able to check Facebook on their iPhones during their visit, thousands of North Koreans remain under a regime that denies them the most basic of human rights, let alone real internet access.