By Erika Kinetz ,AP
YANGON, Myanmar — Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt on Friday urged Myanmar’s government to allow private businesses to develop the country’s woeful telecommunications infrastructure, emphasizing the importance of competition and free speech.
“Try to keep the government out of regulating the internet,” he said to a round of applause from a group of students at a technical university in Yangon. “The answer to bad speech is more speech. More communication. More voices,” he said.
Schmidt said the Internet can help cement political and economic opening in Myanmar, which has undergone rapid changes since reformist president Thein Sein took office in 2010 after decades of direct military rule. “The Internet will make it impossible to go back,” he said. “The Internet once in place guarantees communication and empowerment becomes the law and practice of your country.”
He said Google’s first priority in Myanmar will be to improve access to information with its search engine and applications such as translation and maps.
Google on Thursday launched a local homepage, www.google.com.mm, which will allow the tailoring of Myanmar content. On Wednesday it unblocked the Google Apps store to allow access from within Myanmar. The U.S. lifted most sanctions on doing business in Myanmar last year.
Today, inadequate infrastructure and high prices mean only about 1 percent of people in Myanmar have access to the Internet, according to World Bank data, and less than ten percent have mobile phones, Schmidt said.