In Iraq, most of the Internet connections are routed through satellites and users have to pay up to $150 for a 512kbps connection, so the nation requires more fiber connectivity to meet consumer needs, a Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) team that visited the country early this month said.

"Our goals were to explore opportunities for Google in Iraq, to understand the landscape of Internet access and connectivity in the country during this critical transition period and to bring top-voted questions from YouTube to Iraqi leaders in a series of interviews," wrote Mary Himinkool, a Google principal of new business development, and Olivia Ma, news manager of YouTube on Google's official blog.

The Google officials met with private-sector companies, NGOs, and Iraqi leadership in the Kurdish city of Erbil in the north, and in Baghdad. The team also met a few enthusiastic and motivated computer science students at Salahaddin University in Erbil and at Baghdad University, who expressed their willingness to innovate in an attempt to boost Iraq's economic prospects.

During the trip, the team discovered a higher mobile penetration over the past seven years. However, Internet penetration in Iraq is among the lowest in the Middle East. Only 15% of Iraqis said they browse the Internet, and the largest percentage of these users live in Baghdad.

Himinkool said the trip was an eye-opener for the team, as it showed how Iraq missed the Internet bus during Saddam Hussein's military regime.

Other interviews were conducted in partnership with Middle Eastern news agency Al Arabiya. Questions were submitted by people in Iraq and around the world in both Arabic and English. Google Translate enabled anyone to vote on their favorite questions regardless of language.

"The Iraqis we met consistently expressed their desire for increased access to the Web and for more access to content and tools in both Kurdish and Arabic," Himinkool said. "We believe access to information and high-speed connectivity to the cloud will be key to the future of the country."

However, the country faces significant challenges getting to that point. "To incentivize and enable private companies to lay more fiber in Iraq, a complex set of roadblocks must be addressed, from security concerns to regulatory frameworks to licensing structures," Himinkool said.

The trip was arranged by the Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations.

International Business Times, The Global Business News Leader

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