Google's Eric Schmidt carries a big stick as he tries to keep the issue of Internet freedom in reclusive North Korea front and center, even if the U.S. government would rather he step more lightly.
The Internet search leader’s executive chairman posted comments early Sunday on Google+ about his recent visit to the so-called Hermit Kingdom.
The State Department described the timing of his visit to North Korea as not "particularly helpful" in view of the Asian country's recent launch of a long-range rocket. The “private visit” that he took with Bill Richardson, a former U.N. ambassador and former governor of New Mexico, and others was embarked upon in order to talk with North Korea about Internet issues.
Now that the dust has settled, Schmidt is sharing more about the technology he saw there.
Schmidt said North Korean technology is very limited and mostly Linux-based. And while there’s a 3G network there, “It is a 2100 Megahertz SMS-based technology network that does not, for example, allow users to have a data connection and use smartphones. It would be very easy for them to turn the Internet on for this 3G network. Estimates are that are about a million and a half phones in the DPRK with some growth planned in the near future,” he wrote in a post on Google+.
He also said that only the government, military and universities have access to the Internet, but not average citizens. And those who do use it are supervised. This virtual isolation, he said, is detrimental to the country, economically speaking.
“Once the Internet starts in any country, citizens in that country can certainly build on top of it, but the government has to do one thing: open up the Internet first. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet, which the government of North Korea has not yet done. It is their choice now, and in my view, it’s time for them to start, or they will remain behind,” Schmidt said.
Before Schmidt’s trip, a South Korean government agency had said the visit was “personal-related” and didn’t involve a business plan. As for Google itself, a spokesman had said the company wouldn’t comment on the personal travel of executives.