The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

January 3, 2013

Google chairman heading to North Korea

(Continued)

Kim Jong Un "clearly has a penchant for the modern accoutrements of life. If Google is the first small step in piercing the information bubble in Pyongyang, it could be a very interesting development."

But this trip will probably be less about opening up North Korea's Internet than about discussing information technology, Lim said. North Korea may be more interested in Google services such as email and mapping, as well as software development, than in giving its people Internet access, he said.

Kim Jong Un, who took power a year ago, has stressed the need to build North Korea's economy.

In the early 1970s, communist North Korea had the stronger economy of the two Koreas. But North Korea's economy stagnated in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union as the regime resisted the shift toward capitalism in the world around it.

By 2011, North Korea's national income per capita languished at about $1,200 while South Korea's was $23,467, according to the Bank of Korea in Seoul.

And as the Internet began connecting the world — a movement South Korea embraced — North Korea reinforced its moat of security. Travelers arriving in Pyongyang are ordered to leave their cellphones at the airport and all devices are checked for satellite communications. Foreigners and locals are required to seek permission before interacting — in person, by phone or by email.

However, leader Kim Jong Un declared Monday that North Korea is in the midst of a modern-day "industrial revolution." He is pushing science and technology as a path to economic development for the impoverished country, aiming for computers in every school and digitized machinery in every factory. More than 1.5 million people in North Korea now use cellphones with 3G technology.

But giving citizens open access to the Internet has not been part of the North's strategy. While some North Koreans can access a domestic Intranet service, only a select few have clearance to freely surf the World Wide Web.

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