3G But No Internet for North Koreans
Images of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il in North Korea, taken by Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
CREDIT: Eric Schmidt on Google+
North Koreans have SMS for texting and 3G networks, but can't use the networks to get Internet or smartphones. They have a closed, Korean Intranet and some officials can use the worldwide Internet, but only if someone is watching.
That's what Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt found during his visit to North Korea earlier this month. Schmidt posted about the visit on Google+ this morning (Jan. 20). He first spoke to reporters about the trip immediately after leaving Pyongyang Jan. 10.
With the tech they have already, it would be easy for North Korean officials to hook their citizens up to the global Internet, Schmidt wrote. But whether that will actually happen seems unclear.
Schmidt's daughter, Sophie Schmidt, made more open access sound almost inevitable in her account of the trip, which she joined. "[North Korean officials] seemed to acknowledge that connectivity is coming, and that they can't hope to keep it out," she wrote. "Indeed, some seemed to understand that it's only with connectivity that their country has a snowball's chance in hell of keeping up with the 21st century."
On Jan. 10, however, the U.K.'s the Guardian talked with an expert who thought the Schmidt trip was a long way from heralding open Internet for North Koreans. "Schmidt probably wasn't so naive as to think a plane ride to Pyongyang and meetings with officials would open the country to the web," Martyn Williams, who runs the blog North Korea Tech, told the Guardian.
Williams thought Google won't want to get involved with bringing the Internet to North Korea, as that would mean being associated with any government censorship of the Web, or retribution brought upon those who use the Web in a way the government doesn't like.
The Schmidts flew to North Korea with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, who called their trip "a private, humanitarian visit." The group saw North Korean technology, including face recognition and video-chat rooms, the New Yorker reported.
Western news outlets didn't quite seem to know what to make of Eric Schmidt's intentions, but he wrote that he warned North Korean officials that their economy would suffer if they didn't allow people to access the open Web. Sophie Schmidt declined to name the trip's goals. "No discussion of meeting details or intentions--just some observations," she wrote at the top of her Google Sites page about the trip.
As far as TechNewsDaily can tell, previous news reports about the trip never even mentioned that Sophie Schmidt would be joining her father and Richardson. But her blog post might be the most detailed account yet of the tour, Williams wrote today.