North Korea’s population will soon be able to enjoy a spot of Netflix and chill. Well, sort of. The country’s totalitarian government has launched its own rival streaming service, interestingly named “Manbang.” Translated into English, the name of the streaming service means “Everywhere” and provides residents in the country with a carefully selected catalogue of media. With that in mind, viewers in the country shouldn’t expect to be streaming the likes of House of Cards and Breaking Bad anytime soon.
According to Digital Spy, Manbang takes the form of a digital set-top box that North Koreans can plug into their TV in order to access the state-controlled internet. The box then provides the ability to access a library of documentaries that have already been shown on the country’s carefully controlled television network. Whilst content shown on the streaming service will primarily be of North Korean origin, Manbang will also offer select content in English and Russian languages, only if it has been approved for educational use.
— Mashable (@mashable) August 23, 2016
Kim Jong Min, North Korea’s head of information and technology unveiled the technology, saying “If a viewer wants to watch, for instance, an animal movie and sends a request to the equipment, it will show the relevant video to the viewer… this is two-way communications”.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the streaming service doesn’t sound all that bad for the totalitarian state. However, there’s one key problem with Manbang. It’s widely believed that most North Korean residents simply don’t have the connectivity options available to them in order to use the service. Internet access is only available through the state, with most residents simply unable to afford access. However, even those who are able to afford access have complained about how slow North Korea’s heavily restricted internet access is.
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Internet connectivity in North Korea is, as you’d expect, limited. According to the Telegraph, a North Korean clone of Facebook was found earlier this year, not intended to be accessed from outside the totalitarian state. “Best Korea’s Social Network” was hosted on a North Korean server, appearing to copy Facebook in its design and functionality.
Since it was discovered by a Scottish teenager, the website has garnered attraction from across the globe, with many Western users taking to the service in order to create fake profiles mocking the North Korean leader. However, exactly how many users the social network has inside North Korea remains to be seen, with the country believed to have only a few thousand internet users, out of a population of 25 million.
— Dyn Research (@DynResearch) May 27, 2016
The need for North Korea to have its own social network came about following the government’s decision to block access to many popular western sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. That being said, foreign visitors have previously been able to access the outside internet freely from within North Korea.
North Korea is widely perceived as something of a secretive country around the world. Despite its official title as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the country is widely recognized to be under the dictatorship of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, who inherited the title from his father. A product of Marxism–Leninism, the country’s means of production are owned by the government, and as such, the state controls most services including healthcare, education, housing and food production. At the same time, North Korea’s citizens are widely restricted access to the outside world and what the government describes as propaganda.
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