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29. Cafes cater to Internet junkies

By Mark Alberstat

From Perth, Australia, to Perth, Scotland, and from Hanoi to Halifax, cybercafes have been sprouting up like weeds on corners and in coffee shops. They are a 21st-century phenomenon that anyone computer-savvy enough to know how to log on and receive e-mail may enjoy while on vacation or simply sipping a cup of java at a local cafe.

According to, a website dedicated to tracking and listing cybercafes across the globe, there are almost 7,000 of these public Internet access points or kiosks in 170 countries. They are now found even on cruise ships to help passengers surf the Internet as they cruise the Caribbean.

Like computers, however, not all cybercafes are created equal. Some have more machines, allowing easier access. Others have faster links to the Internet. Some are cheaper than others. Some have knowledgeable staff, while others will have crews that can barely get your coffee order right.

While at a cybercafe, don't expect a serene environment for you to polish off those last edits of your novel before e-mailing it to your editor in New York. Most are small and pack the computers in with an electronic shoehorn. The more computers per foot, the more money that can be made from that space. If you expect the quiet atmosphere of your home office, with a steaming cup of java and some light music in the background, look elsewhere. The coffee may be good, but the music is likely to be Top 40 and blaring.

If you don't like the idea of hearing the latest Britney Spears song as you write to your Aunt Edith about the serenity of the Rhodes beach resort, do a bit of research and legwork to find an Internet access point more to your liking. By the way, there are two cybercafes in Rhodes; The RockStyle Internet is the better of the two but can be a bit edgy in its decor. If you are there before the party people arrive in the evening, the place is relatively quiet, has good computers and is inexpensive.

In Europe, most cybercafes charge four to six euros per hour (about $8 Cdn). That might seem high, but many places allow you to pay by the quarter hour. If all you are doing is checking up on your e-mail and writing a few "The weather is here, wish you were lovely" letters, 15 to 30 minutes is plenty of time.

This side of the Atlantic is often even cheaper. For example, the world's largest cybercafe, created by in New York's Times Square, has 648 PCs at only $1 US per hour. This company also offers multi-day passes, which allow unlimited access during a set-time period.

Many hotels now offer public-access (hotel guests only) computers. Sometimes these are free of charge and may range from the 486 with barely enough RAM to boot up, like the one I found recently my Ottawa hotel, or the screaming new PC in the lobby of a hotel in the south of France. Be warned, however, that these PCs are often not kept up to date with the latest security patches and cleaned of all spy-ware like good cybercafe computers.

If you are thumbing your way across the world and feel that free is definitely better then cheap, check out public libraries. Many offer free Internet access, although you might be hard put to find a decent cup of coffee at the Ballajura Library in Perth, Australia.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


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Originally published 29 February 2004


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