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AFP, May 24, 2009

Afghan government plans Internet curbs

"In the second step, we hope to be able to also limit websites providing bad information, especially that could mislead our children"

KABUL - The Afghan government is planning curbs on Internet use, starting with blocking pornography sites, as the country's first fiber optic cable is due to be on-line in weeks, officials said Sunday.

The communications and information ministries are studying limits on web access because the current "free Internet environment" is being misused in particular by the youth, communications ministry spokesman Abdul Hadi told AFP.

"We will mainly set limitations on pornography because it does not fit our Islamic values," he said.

"In the second step, we hope to be able to also limit websites providing bad information, especially that could mislead our children," he said.

One of the reasons for the curbs was to counter propaganda from Islamist insurgents operating in Afghanistan who charge that the government allows uncontrolled access to pornography, the official said.

The information ministry confirmed it was drafting legislation to cover Internet use, which would include such curbs, and was also registering .af domains.

The Internet only came to Afghanistan after the 2001 ouster of the Taliban regime in a US-led invasion.

There are now about 20 Internet service providers with about 600,000 subscribers, for a mostly illiterate population that is estimated at 25-30 million people although there has never been a census.

The costs of Internet subscription are high compared to other countries in the region but a new fiber optic cable, the first phase of which is due to open next week, is expected to bring down the prices.

Communication and Information Technology Minister Amirzai Sangin was quoted saying in Afghan media reports Sunday that the new capability would improve connections while cutting the costs of one gigabyte from 4,000 dollars to 400.

Work on the underground cable started two years ago. It follows the main road system in Afghanistan, linking the main cities, with links to six neighboring countries.

The $64.5-million project is 80 percent completed with links to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan the first due to open, according to the ministry.

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