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

Photogallery Oxfam: Ebola Could Be 'Disaster of Our Generation'

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro, the former leader of Cuba, says the Caribbean island nation will 'gladly cooperate' with the US in the fight against Ebola in West Africa More

Multimedia Kobani Fighting Sends 400,000 Refugees to Turkey

Refugees receive help from Turkish authorities and individuals, but say much more is needed More

India’s Ruling Nationalist Party Makes Gains in Regional Elections

Bharatiya Janata Party’s huge margin over its rivals puts it on course to form governments in the northern Haryana and western Maharashtra states 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.
Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fighti
X
Zana Omer
October 18, 2014 6:37 PM
The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Syrian Defector Leaks Shocking Photos of Torture Victims

Shocking photographs purporting to show Syrian torture victims are on display at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. The museum says the graphic images are among thousands of photographs recently smuggled out of Syria by a military policeman-turned-defector. As VOA reporter Julie Taboh reports, the museum says the photos provide further evidence of atrocities committed by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against its own people.
Video

Video Drought-Stricken California Considers Upgrading Water System

A three-year drought in California is causing a water shortage that is being felt on farms and cities throughout the state. As VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports, water experts, consumers and farmers say California needs to make changes to cope with an uncertain future.
Video

Video TechShop Puts High-tech Dreams Within Reach

Square, a business app and card reader, makes it possible to do credit card transactions through cell phones. But what made Square possible? VOA’s Adrianna Zhang and Enming Liu have the answer.
Video

Video Church for Atheists Goes Global

Atheists, by definition, do not believe in God. So they should have no need of a church. But two years ago, a pair of British stand-up comedians decided to create one. Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans told the BBC they envisioned “something like church but without God". Their “Sunday Assembly” movement has grown from a single congregation in London to dozens of churches around the world. Reporter Mike Osborne visited with the members of a Sunday Assembly that now meets regularly in Nashville.
Video

Video Robot Locates Unexploded Underwater Mines

Many educators believe that hands-on experience is the best way to learn. Proving that the method works is a project developed by a group of students at the Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey. They rose up to a challenge posted by the U.S. Department of Defense and successfully designed and built an underwater robot for locating submerged unexploded ordnance. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Liberia's JFK Hospital Reopens After Temporary Ebola Exposure

JFK Hospital is Liberia’s largest and one of its oldest medical facilities. The hospital had to close temporarily following the deaths of two leading doctors from Ebola. It is now getting back on its feet, with the maternity ward being the first section to reopen. Benno Muchler has more for VOA News from Monrovia.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Expose Generation Gap

Most of the tens of thousands of protesters in Hong Kong are students seeking democracy. Idealistic youths say while the older generation worries about the present, they are fighting for the territory's future. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Hong Kong.
Video

Video Liberians Living in US Struggle From Afar as Ebola Ravages Homeland

More than 8,000 Liberians live in New York City, more than in any other city outside of Liberia itself. As VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports, with the Ebola virus ravaging their homeland, there is no peace of mind for these New Yorkers.
Video

Video Kurds See War-Ravaged Kobani As Political, Emotional Heartland

Intense fighting is continuing between Islamic State militants -- also known as ISIS or ISIL -- and Kurdish forces around the Syrian town of Kobani, on the Turkish border. The U.S. said it carried out at least nine airstrikes against Islamic State positions Friday. Meanwhile the U.N. has warned that hundreds of civilians would be massacred if the town falls to the militants. Henry Ridgwell looks at the strategic significance of the city.

All About America

AppleAndroid