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Google CEO Eric Schmidt to Visit North Korea (Report)

Eric Schmidt will be the first Google executive to visit the country with the world's most heavily restricted internet access

Google CEO Eric Schmidt, a longtime advocate for access to the World Wide Web, will travel to North Korea — perhaps the world's toughest challenge for the internet, the Associated Press reported.

Schmidt will tag along on a private, humanitarian visit led by former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. The trip could take place as early as this month, two unnamed people told the AP.

Google did not immediately respond to requests from TheWrap for comment.

It will mark the first time a top-level executive from Google, the world's biggest internet search engine, has visited the country considered by many to have the world's tightest restrictions on the internet and media.

Though some North Koreans have access to the heavily censored domestic intranet service — an internal cyber network — very few are permitted to surf the World Wide Web freely.

Google has previously faced censorship in China. In March 2010, it shuttered its office there, recanting its previous acceptance of Beijing's censorship firewall that blocks searches for such things as the Tiananmen Square killings and the banned Falun Gong religious sect.

It redirected searches from Google.cn to Google.hk, its Hong Kong-based site.

The moves comes as North Korea, now under the rule of Kim Jong Un, is pushing for what the dictator called an "industrial revolution" in a New Year's Day speech.

He said he hopes to put computers in every school and modernize machinery in every factory as part of a push to redevelop economically through science and technology.

But in the so-called Hermit Kingdom — where listening to non-governmental radio broadcasts can elicit harsh punishment — open access to the internet is unlikely.