Following a visit to North Korea, Eric Schmidt has continued his impromptu pan-Asia internet freedom tour with a focus on India. In an op-ed written for The Times of India, Schmidt lays out the opportunity facing the world's largest democracy. "Now is the moment for India to decide what kind of internet it wants for them" Schmidt writes. "An open internet that benefits all or a highly regulated one that inhibits innovation." It's not a new line of thought for the Google executive, who has ramped up rhetoric on internet freedom in recent years, but it's a message that both Schmidt and Google find increasingly important as the company wades deeper into national and international policy issues.
India may not boast the most repressive regime of internet control compared to its neighbors in the region, but the country has worked to censor offensive content on the web. Some of the Indian government's measures, including commercially-driven attempts to block copyright infringement, have sparked protests in the country. And Google, Facebook, and other companies have had to defend against lawsuits for allegedly violating Indian laws that prohibit "depraved or corrupt" works. The companies have resisted demands to screen content before it's posted, with a Google India advocate saying in court last year that "the right to freedom of speech in democratic India separates us from a totalitarian regime like China."
"If people in power are overly pessimistic about the internet, their pessimism will be self-fulfilling."
In his op-ed, Schmidt argues that internet innovations in India will come "from Indians solving local problems," citing a number of startups in the country as success stories, including (of course) those using YouTube or Google Hangouts. "In all the places I've traveled to, I've yet to see a country whose situation worsened with the arrival of the internet," he writes. "[People in power] should focus on giving every Indian the best shot at using the internet to make his or her country even better." Following a stop in New Dehli, Google's virtual secretary of state will visit Burma, where he will give a speech for entrepreneurs and politicians and meet with senior government officials.