Government

North Korea Relaxes its Internet Grip, but Not Much

Korea on map

Last November, Techonomy contributor Gabriel Mizrahi wrote about how North Korea’s strict prohibition of Internet access effectively quashes any hopes there for the kind of popular uprising seen in the Arab Spring. “This is the golden age of grassroots regime change,” wrote Mizrahi. “Unless, of course, you [live] in North Korea.” Until now, only a select group of government officials in Pyongyang could access the Web. Meanwhile, the mobile network Koryolink, which was developed by the Egyptian firm Orascom, has over 1 million North Korean subscribers, none of whom can pick up foreign networks or call outside the country. But in March North Korea will begin allowing Internet searches from laptops and mobile devices, as reported in the New York Times IHT Rendezvous blog. There’s just one hitch. Only foreigners will have the privilege of accessing the 3G mobile Internet service to be offered by Koryolink.

The Times notes that North Korea’s decision to loosen the reins on access comes soon after Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s recent, highly publicized visit there, during which he appealed to officials to open up Internet access. Sadly, this latest gesture by the North Korean regime only accentuates the isolation of its citizens, underscoring Schmidt’s comments following his January visit that the “decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth.” Still, there’s room for hope that the presence of Internet-wielding foreigners will be enough to create a chink in North Korea’s isolationist armor.

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