North Korea launched 3G mobile Internet this morning which means visitors can Tweet, Skype and post photos to Instagram – after they register with the Korea Communications Center, of course. With no international roaming, the cheapest way to connect when traveling to North Korea is to buy the USB modem ($100) and the 2GB data plan ($300), but if you feel like splurging you could always buy a SIM card for $200 and 10GB of data for about $530.
The mobile Internet service is run by Koryolink, a provider formed by Korea Post and Telecommunications Corporation (KPTC) and Egyptian owned Orascom. North Korea already has a highly censored 3G network for locals to make calls, but this service will allow foreigners to start bringing their electronic devices into the country and communicating online.
Because we’re dealing with North Korea, there are restrictions, particularly against Americans and South Koreans. Foreigners are unable to communicate to locals, who lack Internet access entirely. International phone calls cost $.50 a minute to European countries and $7 a minute to the US. South Korean calls are prohibited.
The AP’s Jean H. Lee started Tweeting links to Instagram with photos of the mystery country. Mobile Internet means that visitors can start sharing real time experiences, information and photos of a world previously closed off to us. This is the first time North Korea has had a presence on social media that isn’t entirely on their terms.
North Korea created their Twitter, Flickr and YouTube accounts to target local South Koreans and spread pro-DPRK propaganda. South Korea originally blocked the North Korean news agency website and regularly warned its citizens against trying to access it. North Korea, realizing that its target market was out of reach, started signing up for social media sites so South Koreans follow them and develop favor for their cause. Go where your audience is. The South Korean government has since caught on to this tactic and blocked North Korea’s Twitter account, but their YouTube account is still accessible.
While more journalists, diplomats and tourists who travel to Pyongyang will have the opportunity to share their stories with the rest of the world, the true state of the country will still remain shrouded. By prohibiting North Korean citizens from using mobile Internet and social media, the government is able to make sure that all Korean-created content supports the country. If westerners never hear North Koreans complain about their country, they must all be happy, right? Any negative tweets or photos from foreigners could be decried as slander.
Still, it’s a move towards a more open North Korea – a more significant one than allowing pizza – and an interesting PR strategy on their part.