If you are a North Korean living in Pyongyang, internet access isn’t something that is likely to be a huge part of your life. In a country where outside influences are kept to an absolute minimum, internet access is restricted to ‘a need to use basis’. In fact, according to Kim Seung-Joo, professor at Korea University’s Center for Information Security Technologies (CIST),
“Most ordinary people in North Korea have no access to the Internet. Only a handful of elites can use it, with great restrictions”
It is for this reason that when North Korea had an internet blackout for 3 days in December of last year, it was only foreign nationals (journalists and diplomats for the most part) that really even noticed an event which would have had a crippling effect on businesses and industry just about anywhere else in the world.
Now, in a somewhat surprising move by the regime (The Diplomat reported a ban on WiFi for foreigners only 2 months ago), foreign visitors to Pyongyang, will have the benefit of free WiFi access in a number of locations around the city.
The news has come to light following a Christian aid worker’s essay, detailing the availability of a SIM card for foreign visitors that has internet access, and can be purchased from the state run (but largely Egyptian owned) telecommunications company Koryolink. The North Korean SIM costs $200 up front, and $22 per month thereafter, and for that price you get just 50MB of mobile data, with an excess fee of $0.28 per megabyte.
Although the internet isn’t widely available to the domestic market, mobile phone contracts for internal communication are. Talking about the domestic phone network, Naguib Sawiris, the Executive Chairman of Orascom Telecom Media and Technology (OTMT), who owns 75% of Koryolink said,
“When we first acquired the license in North Korea, people thought the service will only be provided to a few privileged individuals… we are very proud today to witness our subscriber base in North Korea increasing at a growing rate, emphasizing the right of the North Korean citizens in DPRK to communicate.”
Having seen the price of the SIM that is available to foreigners visiting North Korea, however, it is not a huge surprise that after an initial surge in subscription to the network (which saw Koryolink hit the 2.4 million subscriber mark) subscription rates dropped off quickly, and that for the most part due to those excessive prices.
Although Kim Jong Un’s regime does not allow telephone communication with South Korea under any circumstances (not even in the SIM package for foreigners), the internet itself remains largely uncensored in North Korea, so along with unrestricted access to videos and websites, foreign nationals visiting Pyongyang will now be able to make the most of the new WiFi service by using internet messaging services to communicate with the South (or anywhere else for that matter), should the need arise.