PYONGYANG, North Korea – North Korea is one of the least Wi-Fi-friendly countries in the world. Having a device that emits Wi-Fi signals can result in detention and a major fine. Worse, if you are a North Korean. Public use of the internet is a concept that just makes North Korean officials really nervous.
But here’s a sign that might be changing.
North Korea’s main internet provider appears to have put up a Wi-Fi trial balloon at the international departure area of Pyongyang’s airport. It’s a logical place to start. The service is only available, or even visible, to travelers who have already cleared customs, which included me last week. So, noticing the new sign with the familiar Wi-Fi logo in the internet corner of the departures lobby, I decided to give it a whirl.
My flight was fogged in, so I had some extra time. I didn’t expect much. The internet corner, with a handful of terminals, opened in 2015, but I have yet to see anyone actually using it. The first time I tried, there were no attendants available and no keyboards for the desktops.
This experience was different. The young woman staffing the internet service area told me I could use the Wi-Fi for 30 minutes if I paid $2. She took down my passport number and gave me a slip of paper with a username and password. The signal was strongest near the coffee shop, where the router is, so she suggested I log on there.
I tried. Several times. The login was incorrect, according to a screen message.
I went back to the internet corner and asked for…