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North Korea must ease web restrictions says Google's Schmidt

Google chief Eric Schmidt this week urged officials in North Korea to provide more access to Internet and cellphone service during a controversial trip to the Asian nation that ended Thursday, according to reports.

Schmidt, who visited North Korea with former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson as part of a "private humanitarian mission," said the secretive state risks falling even further behind in the global rat race if it does not loosen web restrictions, reports The New York Times.

"As the world becomes increasingly connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth and it will make it harder for them to catch up economically," Schmidt told reporters at the Beijing International Airport in China, the Times reported. "We made that alternative very, very clear."

Schmidt said that North Korea's use of technology is "very limited," where only a small helping of the country's elite have access to the Internet (though not Google). New leader Kim Jong-un has blocked the rest of the population from the Web due to concern about outside information entering the country.

Access to the Internet is restricted to only the government, military, and universities. The few who are allowed to access the web are supervised.

"The government has to do something. They have to make it possible for people to use the Internet," Schmidt said. "It's their choice now, and time, in my view, for them to start or they will remain behind."

Schmidt added that officials in the country "showed up and listened to us and asked us a lot of questions."

Meanwhile, Schmidt and Richardson were unable to secure the release of Kenneth Bae, a 44-year-old South Korea-born American citizen who was arrested as a tourist in early November for "hostile acts" against North Korea. Richardson told reporters he could not meet with Bae, who is reportedly in good health. Officials told the former governor that judicial proceedings against Bae are scheduled to start soon.