updated 5/18/2006 7:14:33 PM ET 2006-05-18T23:14:33

African Internet users pay on average 90 times what Americans pay, crippling efforts by the world's poorest continent to become competitive, a senior Kenyan official said.

Internet users in America pay $20 for one gigabyte of data per month, but people in Africa pay about $1,800 for the same amount of data, Minister for Information and Communication Mutahi Kagwe said in a speech read on his behalf by Permanent Secretary Bitange Ndemo.

That's partly because the infrastructure-strapped continent spends millions of dollars 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," Kagwe told participants at the Africa Information and Communication Technology conference.

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

"We are behind almost everybody," he said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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