Wednesday, May 17, 2006


African Internet users pay on average 90 times what U.S. surfers pay, crippling efforts by the world's poorest continent to become competitive in a global economy driven by communications, a senior Kenyan official said Wednesday.

Internet users in America pay US$20 (Ç16) for one gigabyte of data per month, but people in Africa pay about US$1,800 (Ç1,400) for the same amount of data, Minister for Information and Communication Mutahi Kagwe told industry leaders, financiers, scientists, engineers, educators and policy makers from Africa and the rest of the world attending an Africa Information and Communication Technology conference.

"We need to cut costs by about 1,000 percent for Africa to be competitive," Kagwe said in a speech read on his behalf by his Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo.

The costs of data and voice communications in Africa is the highest in the world, partly because the infrastructure-strapped continent spends millions of dollars (euros) every year to route data and voice traffic from one African country to another through Europe or North America, Kagwe said.

"The only undersea fiber optic cable to connect several African countries and the rest of the world ... remains the most expensive in the world and contributes to the high costs of bandwidth in Africa," he said.

Only some 1.5 percent of Africa's estimated 906 million people are connected to the internet. In contrast, more than 70 percent of people in Hong Kong are online, Kagwe said.

"We are behind almost everybody," he said.

Africa could dramatically improve its economy by expanding infodensity -described as the stock of information and communication technology capital and labor, he said.

A one percent increase in infodensity could help expand Africa's economy by some 400 percent, he said.

Among those attending the five-day conference was Donald Keck, one of the three inventors of the low-loss fiber optic cable.

He described how a remarkable convergence of three technological breakthroughs that occurred nearly at the same time 36 years ago - the first Internet experiments, the first demonstration of room-temperature semiconductor lasers and the invention of "low-loss" optical fiber -helped transformed the global economy and communications.

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