North Korea's Internet Is Basically That Town From The Truman Show

By Matt Novak on at

North Korea is one of the most isolated countries in the world. But a new interview with a telecommunications employee who worked inside the country is full of surprises about what kind of phone and internet access the average North Korean has.

NK News interviewed Ahmed El-Noamany, a former technical director who worked on North Korea’s telecom networks. El-Noamany is an Egyptian national who lived and worked in Pyongyang for telecom company Koryolink from 2011 until 2013. Koryolink was established in 2008 as a joint venture between a private Egyptian firm and the North Korean regime.

One of the most interesting tidbits from the article is about the average North Korean’s access to the internet. Yes, some North Koreans have access to the internet. Well, a version of it, with about 10 per cent of the full internet’s information, according to El-Noamany’s estimations. And for the majority of users it’s actually an intranet containing pages copied from the larger web and walled off without gateways to the outside. Because, as El-Noamany describes it, “the North Koreans try to simulate whatever exists in the outside world, but in a better way.”

Sounds a bit like the internet version of The Truman Show if you ask me — always under surveillance, and a strange, highly manipulated version of the real thing, completely closed off from the real world.

From NK News:

In contrast, El-Noamany said the nation’s domestic intranet, which Pyongyang has total control over, was the closest thing most North Koreans had to the net. “For locals of course they don’t have access to the general internet, but I would say they have more like 10 per cent of it. (Because) the North Koreans try to simulate whatever exists in the outside world, but in a better way.

“So they have some news site, they have a library to access through your mobile phone. You can check the train times and schedules, you can check the weather conditions, you can check some prices of the currencies, you can check some commodity pricing; whatever is basic was there already,” he said.

Noting that network monitoring software indicated smartphone technology comprised around 5 per cent of all mobile phone inventory at the time of his departure, El-Noamany said there was also “good decent traffic” on the domestic intranet service.

“It’s not like a retarded market that only makes voice calls and SMS, no.”

You can read the extensive interview with El-Noamany in its entirety over at NK News.