Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Perhaps you might think that a totalitarian (or Stalinist, or despotic, or insert your favorite adjective here) regime such as North Korea's wouldn't tolerate difficult to control individual media devices like cell phones. Well, think again.
Smuggled mobiles have been used on Chinese networks near the border for years, but now business is booming for Koryolink, the North’s only official cellular network, based in the capital, Pyongyang.

The service—75%-owned by Orascom, an Egyptian firm, and 25%-owned by the North Korean state—has gone from 300,000 to 1m subscribers in 18 months.

Of course the state does try to limit the potentially liberating nature of cell phones:
Koryolink is a walled garden: users are not able to make or receive international calls, and there is no internet access. It would be hard to imagine that calls and text messages are not monitored. As in China, the network is even becoming a means by which the state disseminates propaganda. Rodong Shinmun, the government mouthpiece, sends out text messages that relay the latest news to phone subscribers.
North Korea will likely be an interesting case study for the ongoing debate about whether information/communication and the technology that increases one's access to it is inherently liberating or whether the same technologies can be used to monitor and control.

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