Sunday, December 5, 2010

Korea's DMZ as a Digital Divide: Examining the Implications

In one of the earliest posts on this blog, back in late 2007, I noted the significance of Korea's DMZ as a digital divide.  Although much of the news about Korea these days is about the recent North Korean shelling of Yongpyeong Island or its nuclear program, there are some valuable bits of news here and there about the digital divide between the two Koreas, which deserves much more attention.
Stuart Fox has an interesting article about "The Technological Hassles of a Potential Korean Reunification," which draws heavily on interviews with faculty from Syracuse University, which continues an ongoing IT-related exchange program with Kimchaek University in Pyongyang.  The article contains some informed speculation on what might happen when the world's most digitally networked nation, South Korea, moves toward unification with one of the least digitally networked countries in the world, North Korea.    I would add that the implications of the current, growing ICT infrastructure disparity between North and South Korea is a topic that deserves not only more attention in the news, but also more serious and in-depth research.  For example, there is speculation in the article that unification might enable North Korea to leapfrog by quickly building new mobile networks.  To what extent is this really the case?  What of the need for terrestrial fiber optic networks that have taken South Korea decades to build?  An argument might be made that such a decades-long investment in fiber infrastructure will be necessary for full parity in communications infrastructure and for true and complete unification.
I also ran across the North Korea Tech blog, which contains regular posts on the development of the ICT sector in North Korea.  It is authored by Martyn Williams, Tokyo Bureau Chief for IDG News Service.
Back in the early 1990s when I was researching and writing The Telecommunications Revolution in Korea, it was already apparent that there were two broad aspects to Korean national division, from a communication perspective.  The first of these was the growing infrastructure disparity between North and South.   The second was that of the political implications of free flow of information in and out of North Korea.  Both are important, but these days the second area is getting more attention as cameras, phones and other electronic devices are becoming smaller, more mobile and more powerful, just as the internet and cloud computing become the norm for many.  In the current era it is literally impossible for any country to completely control the flow of information to and from its citizens.

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