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US Firm Urges Affordable Internet Access for East Africa


A U.S.-based organization that promotes the use of the Internet is urging leaders in east Africa to make the Internet accessible and affordable to all of their citizens. The leaders are gathering in Nairobi for a regional summit due to begin Tuesday.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) says by expanding the reach and affordability of the Internet, African countries can vastly help improve the economic future of the people on the continent.

Speaking at an ICANN-hosted Internet conference in Nairobi Monday, CEO Rod Beckstrom noted that Africa, which has 15 percent of the world's population, is home to less than seven percent of Internet users worldwide.

"If you look at our vision of 'One world, one Internet, everyone connected,' it finishes with everyone connected," said Beckstrom. "Well, there are a billion people in Africa that need to be on-line for everyone to be connected."

According to the figures provided by African Internet providers, Internet usage in east Africa is wildly uneven. For example, more than 10 percent of the 41 million people living in Sudan use the Internet on a regular basis. But less than one-half of one percent of Ethiopia's 85 million people has access.

Sudan and Ethiopia, along with Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia, and Uganda, make up the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD). Heads of IGAD are due to meet on Tuesday at Nairobi's Kenyatta International Conference Center, where the ICANN conference is also being hosted.

Beckstrom urged IGAD countries to take the lead in ending state-run telecommunications monopolies, which he says help keep Internet services unaffordable for many people. He says not having access to the Internet denies citizens the chance to engage in online commerce, a field that is growing in importance as the world becomes increasingly connected through the Internet.

"We hope the African heads of state of IGAD will walk across the hallway and join our meeting because that is a few small steps for them, but a huge leap for Africa - for more visibility and leadership of the heads of state in the Internet policy area - because the Internet is truly the developmental platform for the future," he added.

Last July, a fiber optic cable went live off the Kenyan coast, putting the countries of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda on the global information superhighway for the first time.

East Africa had been the only region in the world not connected through fiber optic cables. For years, businesses suffered because they had to rely on expensive satellites to connect to the Internet. Many passed down those costs to consumers, hurting the poor in the region.

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