North Korean Internet takes a step forward

North Korea may be about to open its first domestically hosted Web site accessible from the Internet.

Official media reported late last week that the country’s Academy of Sciences has opened a new Web site partly to “introduce local scientific and technological achievements to other countries.” The report, carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), also included an address for the site, , although it is currently inaccessible.

In addition to hinting the site may be available from overseas, it also appears to be the first time that a Web site address under the North Korean “.kp” top level domain has been reported by official media.

The “.kp” domain has been reserved for the country for many years but is currently dormant with no governing body registered with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is the U.S.-based body responsible for international top-level domains. Technical details of domain name servers for the “.kp” domain will have to be registered with IANA before allocated names can be widely accessed from overseas.

At present the new home page is available through a domestic intranet service, according to the report. Major North Korean universities, ministries and other official establishments operate home pages on a nationwide domestic intranet called Kwangmyong. The network, which has been in operation for at least one year, is not connected to the Internet and offers domestic Web access and limited e-mail functionality to authorized users.

North Korea is one of Asia’s most insular nations and one of the few places in the world where Internet access is not widely available, and the start of a domain name service won’t necessarily change that. Access to any information from outside the country, such as television and radio, is tightly controlled by the government, and computers remain out of the grasp of average citizens.

The capital city of Pyongyang boasts a single Internet cafe connected via a dedicated line to China and aimed at the handful of tourists and diplomats who visit the city. In addition Kim Jong II, leader of the hard-line communist nation, is reportedly an avid Internet user and regularly checks South Korean Web sites, according to South Korean media reports.