Eric Schmidt: North Koreans can't access web "without somebody watching them"

Google chairman ends trip by urging North Korean government to open the internet to all

Dave Stevenson
10 Jan 2013

Google chief executive Eric Schmidt has arrived in Beijing following a controversial visit to North Korea.

Schmidt said he made "very clear" his belief that North Korea’s economic underdevelopment was unlikely to improve unless the government begins to relax controls on public internet access. "The government has to do something," said Schmidt. "They have to make it possible for people to use the internet."

He claimed it appeared North Koreans couldn't access the world wide web without "somebody else watching them". Most North Koreans have no access to a computer and those who do are restricted to a countrywide intranet rather than the full web.

"As the world becomes increasingly connected, [North Korea’s] decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world," said Schmidt. "It will make it harder for them to catch up economically."

He also described how North Korea had a functioning 3G network that nonetheless didn’t allow a connection to the internet. It would be "very easy" for the North Korean government to enable the mobile web, he said.

"Once the internet starts, citizens in a country can certainly build on top of it, but the government has to do something," he said.

Schmidt travelled with a fellow Googler, head of Google Ideas Jared Cohen, as well as his daughter and former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson. The trip was not official company travel, according to Google, and was criticised as "unhelpful" by the US government.

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