Google Chairman Eric Schmidt on Sunday took to his Google Plus page to post fascinating details about his recent trip to North Korea, revealing that the country has a limited 3G mobile network with no Web access, that it has its own software built on primarily Linux computers, and that Internet access in general is limited to rare supervised use by government, military and educational institutes. Schmidt also said he called for North Korea to broaden its Internet access. The Google chairman traveled to the isolated totalitarian country the first week of January along with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson against the wishes of the U.S. State Department, which called the visit "unhelpful." Here's Schmidt's statement in full. Read the original on Google Plus:
Here is an edited version of my comments when Governor Richardson's delegation returned from Pyongyang:
I wanted to thank Governor Richardson for inviting my crew along on this trip. This was a private visit to North Korea to talk about the free and open Internet. The North Koreans showed up, listened to us and asked us a lot of questions.
Overall, the technology in North Korea is very limited right now.
There is a 3G network that is a joint venture with an Egyptian company called Orascom. It is a 2100 Megahertz SMS-based technology network, that does not, for example, allow users to have a data connection and use smart phones. 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.
There is a supervised Internet and a Korean Intranet. (It appeared supervised in that people were not able to use the internet without someone else watching them). There’s a private intranet that is linked with their universities. Again, it would be easy to connect these networks to the global Internet.
They also demonstrated their software and technology based on open source (mostly Linux) and it was obvious to us that access to the Internet and all of this was possible for the government, the military, and universities, but not for the general public.
As the world becomes increasingly connected, the North Korean decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world and their economic growth. It will make it harder for them to catch up economically.
We made that alternative very, very clear. 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.