Eric Schmidt has kicked off a mini Asia tour in India by calling on the government to stop pursuing control of the Internet and instead focus on how technology can help the population and local businesses.
Google has confirmed that Schmidt, who is scheduled to visit Myanmar in addition to other unnamed countries across the continent, is already in India as he prepares to speak at The Guardian’s Big Tent Activate India event in New Delhi on March 21. In a byline posted to the Times of India, the Google Executive chairman appealed to the Indian government to change its focus and be positive about the Internet.
India has invested considerable energy trying to police the Web in the past eighteen months or so. A proposal to introduce real-time content monitoring drew controversy in late 2011, while its legal system has housed a number of cases against Internet firms like Google, Facebook, Yahoo and Twitter. The companies stood accused of allowing unsuitable content to exist in Indian cyberspace.
Avoiding any direct mention of the cases and the conflict between maintaining Indian culture while allowing freedom of expression, Schmidt focuses his editorial on the choice between the open or closed Web:
Almost one billion of [the world's new Internet users in the next ten years] will come online in India. They will have different needs from people online today and expect different things from the internet. Now is the moment for India to decide what kind of internet it wants for them: an open internet that benefits all or a highly regulated one that inhibits innovation.
The past 10 years show that the safest economic, social and political bet is on openness. Where there is a free and open Web, where there is unbridled technological progress, where information can be disseminated and consumed freely, society flourishes.
He provides examples of of this benefit, citing specific Google programs in India — the Google+ Hangout with the country’s finance minister, and Women Entrepreneurs on the Web, a program being piloted in India — and the benefits of long distance learning, video communication, and more.
Equally, Schmidt argues, the Internet can enable local businesses — and startups in particular — to flourish. The Web gives them a platform to take their businesses international, and explore vast potential that an offline world simply cannot offer:
The most striking Indian internet innovations won’t come from big institutions or companies moving online, however. They will come from Indians solving local problems. We know that India’s internet infrastructure allows Indian engineers to solve the problems of small businesses in other countries. If India plays its cards right, we’ll soon see Indian engineers and Indian small businesses tackling Indian problems first, then exporting the solutions that work best.
In a similar vein to his comments about the potential for greater access to technology in North Korea — which is clearly a more extreme example than India — Schmidt says that the Internet can only improve the situation and society in a country:
India could reap a huge dividend from the Internet’s growth — the same one other countries have realized, or are about to. In all the places I’ve traveled to, I’ve yet to see a country whose situation worsened with the arrival of the internet.
That’s an important point since Indian courts and politicians have previously voiced their keenness to introduce a Chinese style censorship policy to keep negative influences away. Schmidt does acknowledge that not every aspect of the Internet is good, but his parting comment warns that “in seeking to control all of [the Internet, India authorities will] stop good Indians from doing great things”.
You can read the full byline here.
Headline image via Spencer Platt / Getty Images