Schmidt reportedly visits Cuba to promote Internet access

Google's executive chairman leads group of open Internet advocates to Havana, an independent Cuban news site reports.

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Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Dan Farber/CNET

A delegation of top Google executives, including Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, reportedly visited Cuba this week to push for greater Internet access on the island nation.

The team has met with officials and representatives of the Cuban technology and digital scene "to promote the virtues of a free and open Internet," according to 14ymedio.com, an independent news site launched last month by blogger Yoani Sanchez. The group included Brett Perlmutter, Dan Keyserling, and Jared Cohen, a former State Department official who co-authored a book with Schmidt on how ubiquitous Internet access will change society.

The group took a guided tour of the University of Information Sciences, a technology research center based in Havana, and met with editors and reporters of 14medio.com, the blog reported. Among the topics of discussion was the difficulty in getting fast Internet access in public places.

"It was a technological night without technology," Sanchez wrote in the Huffington Post. "No one took out their cellphones to check the web -- it's not possible in Cuba -- and it didn't occur to anyone to show us the latest doodle, nor to tell us in figures the scale of the company in which they work."

CNET has contacted Google for more information about Schmidt's visit and will update this report when we learn more.

One of the most closed-off countries in the world, Cuba has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the world. Only 5 percent of Cuba residents have periodic access to the Internet, according to Freedom House, a US-based government watchdog and human rights organization.

Last year, the Cuban government opened 118 public Internet centers across the country to offer residents greater access to the Web. However, the usage cost is prohibitively expensive for many Cubans, running $4.50 per hour in a country where the average wage for the majority of residents is $20 per month, the Associated Press has reported.

This isn't Schmidt's first visit to an isolationist state to promote wider access to the Internet. In a controversial visit to North Korea in January 2013, Schmidt toured a university computer lab and warned officials that global Internet access was key to developing its economy. In March 2013, Schmidt traveled to Myanmar to meet with entrepreneurs, government officials, and others about the virtues of allowing greater Internet access to individuals and businesses.