Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt took to Google+ over the weekend to discuss his recent, controversial trip to North Korea. He shared an edited version of his comments from when his group (former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson’s delegation) returned from Pyongyang.
“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,” Schmidt said. “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,” continued Schmidt. “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.”
He went on to talk about the North Koreans demonstrating their software and technology based on open source – mostly Linux, he said. Schmidt said it was obvious to his group that Internet access was possible for the government, 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,” said Schmidt. “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.”
Schmidt also posted a couple of photos from the trip, including this one:
Quartz points to what has reportedly been confirmed as an account of the trip from Schmidt’s daughter, who went as part of the delegation as well. “It’s impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like,” she writes. “Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments. We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other).”
Her site, hosted on Google Sites, has plenty of the story from her point of view, many pictures, a video and this: