Nov 04, 2013 07:42 PM EST
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt was on hand today to launch a new local entrepreneurship program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. In his remarks, which focused on improving Internet connectivity in developing countries, Schmidt discussed the state of web access in North Korea and Myanmar, where he recently visited to help foster the growth of IT infrastructure.
“A mobile phone costs $1000/year and doesn't really work anyway, and a tiny number of the 60m Burmese have Internet access,” Schmidt wrote in a Google + posting. “There is no data service on their mobile network and no international roaming (another benefit for the foreign tourist on vacation?). Myanmar is one of the last countries to get connected to the Internet, and it will not be a smooth path."
Schmidt identifies two distinct factors impeding the growth of Internet technology in Myanmar. While there is an obvious political element that must predicate the country’s stances on press freedom, net neutrality and other pivotal issues, there’s also a sociological component. What is the Internet “for” in Myanmar?
“We are entering a dangerous period for the Internet in Myanmar,” Schmidt wrote. “The country cannot even agree on a press freedoms law for the newspapers, and freedom of political speech is a one year old concept. Because of the phenomenon of ‘anchoring,’ where people believe the first thing they hear and anchor from that point, will the Internet be used to inflame special interests after sixty years of silence, or will the essential good nature of Burmese citizen prevail and will the transition be smoother than many think?”
Although Myanmar has a long way to go before Internet access becomes affordable and ubiquitous, the country is still on a better track than North Korea, according to Schmidt.
"North Korea is the most isolated country in the world. 23 million people, a million phones, they talk within the country but not out," Schmidt said in Hong Kong today. "You cannot get information in and out of the country, it's a terrible disservice to the citizens of the country."
As for Schmidt’s personal attempts at intervening in North Korea, the Mountain View executive says that only history will tell if his visit had any kind of impact.
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