News / Asia

N. Korea Cuts 3G Mobile Web Access for Foreign Visitors

Foreigners speak with sales person about mobile phone service at Pyongyang Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. (File photo).
Foreigners speak with sales person about mobile phone service at Pyongyang Airport in Pyongyang, North Korea. (File photo).
Groups that organize trips to North Korea say the country is no longer offering mobile Internet to foreign visitors, just weeks after it unveiled a new 3G service that promised an unprecedented look into the notoriously closed state.

The apparently uncensored Internet service was introduced last month, setting off a flurry of Instagram photos and Twitter posts. The move offered a rare glimpse into a country that does not allow its own citizens to access the web.

Koryo Tours, a group that specializes in trips to North Korea, says it was told by authorities in Pyongyang that 3G access is no longer available for visitors.

"About two weeks ago, I got an email from my contact at Koryolink, which is the mobile phone company there. They said that the 3G still exists, but just not for tourists," says Hannah Barraclough, a tourism manager at the Beijing-based group.

"It's still possible for foreign residents in Pyongyang to access, but not for foreign tourists who visit," added Barraclough, who said no reason was given for the termination.

Too risky for Pyongyang?

International tourists are no longer able to purchase the sim cards necessary to access the service, according to Gareth Johnson, who runs Young Pioneer Tours, and just returned Thursday from a trip to North Korea. He says this is likely because Pyongyang became uncomfortable with what foreigners were posting.

"I don't know this for sure, but I can pretty much guarantee that pretty much the first tourist that went in there using his phone with 3G was on Twitter or something and was posting photos that he shouldn't have been posting," says Johnson, adding that he did not know of any specific instance that may have angered Pyongyang.

The photos that emerged from North Korea appeared to be relatively mundane, as most foreigners are only given access to pre-approved areas and are often accompanied by government minders.

But many observers said it was still surprising that Pyongyang had allowed foreigners to post real-time photos of the country at all. Some viewed it as a possible sign that Pyongyang was open to reducing censorship.

'Nervous' about contact with outside

It is difficult to tell why Pyongyang would go back so quickly on its decision, says Aidan Foster-Carter, a Korea expert at Leeds University. But he says North Korea has made similar moves in the past.

"What comes to mind is when [North Korea] first had mobile phones several years ago, and then after several months they cancelled it," he says. "Obviously North Korea is very nervous about all manner of connectivity with the outside world. And when they do put a toe in the water, they are careful, and they sometimes retract the toe."

North Korea eventually did allow mobile phones back into the country. There are now an estimated 1.8 million North Koreans who use Koryolink, the only mobile service there.

Earlier this year, North Korea also announced that foreigners could bring their own mobile phones into the country, after having previously required them to be left at customs upon crossing the border. Both Young Pioneer Tours and Koryo Tours confirm this policy is still in place.

But it is not clear if, or when, Pyongyang will decide to reinstate the mobile Internet service for foreign visitors. Gareth Johnson, with Young Pioneer Tours, says many of his customers hope they do so soon.

"It's a shame. I've got a group going in in two days, and one of the guys, an American guy, was planning to blog throughout his trip there. So I think people are disappointed," he says.

You May Like

Polls Open in Scotland Independence Vote

As race to persuade undecided voters continues, 'No' voters say they believe life in Scotland will slowly improve, 'Yes' vote not worth the risk More

China to Invest $20 billion In India Amid Border Dispute

Border spat between armies of two countries in Himalayas underlines mutual tensions despite growing commercial ties highlighted by Xi Jinping's high profile visit More

Ukrainian Activist in Despair About Future of Her Country

IrIna Dovgan, accused of being a spy and tortured by pro-Russian separatists, is appealing to UN Human Rights Council to support her country More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Wateri
X
September 17, 2014 8:44 PM
Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid