A total cyber blackout in North Korea would affect about 1,000 citizens

North Korea is famous for its lack of Internet access, but that doesn't mean it's pleased when its servers happen to melt down. This morning, after reports of disruptions to its news services, the country lashed out at the United States and South Korea for allegedly shutting off its Internet.

"It is nobody's secret that the U.S. and the South Korean puppet regime are massively bolstering up cyber forces in a bid to intensify the subversive activities and sabotages against the DPRK," said KCNA, the country's chief propaganda outlet. "Intensive and persistent virus attacks are being made every day on Internet servers operated by the DPRK."

KNCA provided scant details about the allegation, but the Associated Press reports that foreigners in Pyongyang said they could not get online on Wednesday or Thursday. A Bangkok-based company that services North Korea's Internet also acknowledged a cyber attack but noted that servers were recovering on Friday. In any event, given North Korea's reputation for prohibiting and censoring Internet use, how many of its citizens would actually be affected by a cyber blackout?

It turns out, a vanishingly small number. Though the DPRK doesn't publish Internet penetration statistics, the estimates range from "a few hundred people" to "1,000 at most,"  according to analysts speaking with Agence France Presse. A less generous estimate offered by the BBC in December pinned unrestricted access to "just a few dozen families -- most directly related to Kim Jong-un himself." That's because Internet use is banned for average citizens, though exceptions can be made for other types of people in the country.

For example, last month, foreign residents of Pyongyang were informed that a mobile Internet service would be available March 1, provided by Korean Post and Telecommunications Corporation and Egypt's Orascom Telecom. But sorry locals. "The policy only covers those from outside the country," reported Wired magazine. "Citizens of the country are still barred from making international calls and accessing the internet. As such the move is likely to be entirely centred around generating revenue from tourism and not a result of Eric Schmidt's recent visit to the country."

If you do manage to get online, you probably won't like what you see. That's because instead of the Internet, North Korea has the Intranet, a domestic service built in 2008 that isn't connected to the rest of the world. As the BBC's David Lee discovered while surfing the web in Pyongyang's only cyber cafe, it's a pretty lonely place:

What they see is an internet that is so narrow and lacking in depth it resembles more an extravagant company intranet than the expansive global network those outside the country know it to be.

Typical sites include news services - such as the Voice of Korea - and the official organ of the state, the Rodong Sinmun.

But anyone producing content for this "internet" must be careful.

Reporters Without Borders - an organisation which monitors global press freedom - said some North Korean "journalists" had found themselves sent to "revolutionisation" camps, simply for a typo in their articles.

At last check, the Internet appears to be back up for foreigners. About 48 minutes ago, for example, the AP's chief Asia photographer David Guttenfelder uploaded an Instagram photo of a violent propaganda painting inside a Pyongyang kindergarten. Hooray for the .0o1 percent?


British council bans apostrophes from street names

In a move that is sure to rile grammarians the world over, the Mid Devon District Council is planning a ban on apostrophes in street names to avoid "potential confusion," according to the BBC (the official pronouncement is largely symbolic, since only three streets in the district currently have apostrophes). Already, Britons like proofreader Mary de Vere Taylor of Ashburton are speaking out against the proposed prohibition:

"It's almost as though somebody with a giant eraser is literally trying to erase punctuation from our consciousness," she told BBC News.

She said there was something "terribly British and terribly reassuring" about well-written and well-punctuated writing.

The North Devon Journal adds that the North Devon Council and Torridge District Council have implemented bans as well:

While Torridge has an official policy against the use of apostrophes North Devon's assistant chief executive Anne Cowley said although it was not a council policy it is historic practice not to use apostrophes in street names.

"When the council names a new street the details are entered onto the Local Street Gazetteer," she said.

"This feeds into the National Street Gazetteer and there are no street names on the Local Street Gazetteer for North Devon containing an apostrophe followed by a letter S."

The debate about apostrophes in public signage is actually not new in Britain. In 2009, for instance, the Daily Mail profiled a "punctuation hero" who was accused of being a vandal after he pained a missing apostrophe on a sign near his home (the man also refused to get in the 'five items or less' line at the supermarket because the notice should read, 'five items or fewer'). 

That same year, the Birmingham City Council got in a feud with the U.K.'s Apostrophe Protection Society -- yes, the Apostrophe Protection Society -- after authorities refused to add apostrophes to the city's road signs. "I have done my own research into the use of the possessive apostrophe in place names," one council member declared in defending the decision.

As for the latest punctuation dustup, the Mid Devon District Council's statement declares that "our proposed policy on street naming and numbering covers a whole host of practical issues, many of which are aimed at reducing potential confusion over street names." Careful readers will notice that the statement does not include a single apostrophe.


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