The North Korean regime has long maintained tight control over the flow of information within its borders, but when the country's first-ever 3G network goes live next week, it apparently won't come with any content filters — for some, at least. In an e-mail to Bloomberg, a spokesman for Orascom Telecom said foreigners working in or visiting the country will have unfettered mobile access to the web, thanks to new policies implemented by supreme leader Kim Jong Un. Cairo-based Orascom owns a 75 percent stake in Koryolink, North Korea's only mobile provider and the entity responsible for operating its new 3G network.
A free and open internet, but not for everyone
According to Orascom spokeswoman Manal Abdel-Hamid, North Korea's more open web policies are designed to "avail foreigners with easier means of communications with the outside world." Last month, the regime began allowing tourists to use their own cellphones within the country, reversing a longtime policy that required foreigners to hand over their devices to authorities.
These moves would suggest that the country has finally begun opening its doors to the outside world, though it's important to note that the rules only apply to foreign visitors — including, for instance, Dennis Rodman, who arrived in Pyongyang today as part of a highly-publicized "basketball diplomacy" campaign. Domestic subscribers will have access to some 3G services, including text messaging, video calls, and subscriptions to state-run newspapers, but their mobile internet will remain tightly filtered, since North Koreans are still "governed by a separate set of telecommunication rules," Abdel-Hamid told Bloomberg.
Nevertheless, the fact that North Korea has even slightly loosened its grip is a noteworthy and somewhat surprising development, considering its long history of totalitarian censorship. The regime appears intent on establishing two parallel internets — one for foreigners, one for citizens — though it remains to be seen whether it can successfully maintain this balance. An even partially unfettered web could allow for an unprecedented flow of information into the country, though it won't come for cheap. According to the Wall Street Journal, visitors will have to pay a minimum of about $300 for the cheapest 2GB data package.