A tech-savvy government, the highest broadband penetration rate in the world, and a nation of restless young cyber-activists make South Korea the most fascinating media laboratory on the planet.
20 November 2006/ David McNeill reports from Seoul
Internet futurists often like to imagine a sort of democratic digital nirvana, populated by smart, politically aware "netizens", where every home has cheap broadband and where boys in bedrooms help elect presidents.
That cyber-pipedream is closest to being realised not in Europe or the US, but in South Korea, which leads the planet in broadband access, cyber-activism and blogging. Over three-quarters of South Korean homes have an eye-watering 3Mb broadband access at home, for which they pay just �10 a month.
The country boasts over 30 million 3G mobile-phone users, online newspapers with more readers than hardcopy rivals, and 20,000 internet caf�s, where young people can be found, day and night, hunched in front of flickering PCs. A government survey last year found that seven out of 10 Koreans go online, making it one of the most 'net-savvy nations in the world. "Perhaps only Iceland has a higher rate," said Paek ki-hun, a spokesman for the country's Ministry of Communications. A staggering nine out of 10 Koreans aged 24 to 29 are members of a single networking site: Cyworld, a parallel universe where 19 million users - in a population of 48 million - have created virtual alter-egos.