North Korea tip-toes on to the Web

North Korea has taken its first steps toward getting a fully-fledged connection to the Internet.

The notoriously secretive Asian state has been ruled since 1948 by communist dictator Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong-Il, who have restricted access by the country's citizens to the outside world.

Once dubbed "the world's worst Internet black hole" by press freedom campaigners Reporters Without Borders, North Korea has for many years held a block of 1,024 IP addresses. Those addresses have remained untouched – until now.

North Korea recently handed its addresses to Star Joint Venture, a company based in the country's capital Pyongyang, but which is partly controlled by Thailand's Loxley Pacific. The Thai company has previously worked with North Korea on high-tech projects, having built the country's first mobile phone network, Sunnet, in 2002.

Whatever happens to the addresses, it's unlikely that citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea will find themselves getting open access to the Internet. Experts believe they are likely to be assigned for military or government use.

"There is no place for the Internet in contemporary DPRK," Leonid A. Petrov, a lecturer in Korean studies at The University of Sydney, told business technology web site CIO.com. "If the people of North Korea were to have open access to the World Wide Web, they would start learning the truth that has been concealed from them for the last six decades."

"Unless Kim Jong-Il or his successors feel suicidal, the Internet, like any other free media, will never be allowed in North Korea," Petrov added.

Until now, North Koreans have only been allowed access to a limited intranet that provides only selected information.

A recent BBC Newsnight documentary explored the insular world of North Korea's web. One student told reporter Sue Lloyd-Roberts: "Ordinary people here have no access to the world wide web. The Dear Leader has arranged for all that they need to know to be put on a closed system."

The move by North Korea comes as the country's government finds itself increasingly isolated by calls for tougher sanctions, after the state was blamed for the recent sinking of a South Korean warship.