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North Korea moves quietly onto the Internet

By Martyn Williams
June 10, 2010 08:56 PM ET

North Korean citizens have access to a nationwide intranet system called Kwangmyong, which was established around 2000 by the Pyongyang-based Korea Computer Center. It connects universities, libraries, cybercafes and other institutions with Web sites and e-mail, but offers no links to the outside world.

Connections to the actual Internet are severely limited to the most elite members of society. Estimates suggest no more than a few thousand North Koreans have access to the Internet, via a cross-border hook-up to China Netcom. A second connection exists, via satellite to Germany, and is used by diplomats and companies.

For normal citizens of North Korea, the idea of an Internet hook-up is unimaginable, Petrov said.

Kim Jong-Il, the de-facto leader of the country, appears all too aware of the destructive power that freedom of information would have to his regime.

While boasting of his own prowess online at an inter-Korean summit meeting in 2007, he reportedly rejected an Internet connection to the Kaesong Industrial Park, the jointly run complex that sits just north of the border, and said that "many problems would arise if the Internet at the Kaesong Park is connected to other parts of North Korea."

Kim himself has made no secret of the Internet access that he enjoys, and famously asked then-U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for her e-mail address during a meeting in 2000.

The government's total control over information extends even as far as requiring radios be fixed on domestic stations so foreign voices cannot be heard.

The policy shows no signs of changing, so any expansion of the Internet into North Korea would likely be used by the government, military or major corporations.

(For a look at how North Koreans attempt to break the information blockade and get news and information from other countries, watch this video by Martyn Williams.)

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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