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So you want to surf the Net but don’t have a computer. Now, thanks to the growth of the Internet, various alternative Internet access points are readily available to people who don’t have access at home, work or school or who simply need access on the run. Browsing the World Wide Web, exchanging electronic mail or entering a chat room doesn’t have to mean shelling out $2,000 for a PC. Onramps to the Net can be found in libraries, hotels, business centers and even cybercafe. Libraries believe offering Internet access is good public policy; hotels want to give their visitors added value; and retail outlets, such as the business centers and cybercafes., see entrepreneurial opportunities.
What’s the best public Internet space for you? If it’s mood you’re seeking, start with the cybercafe, a sort of high-tech coffee shop that has popped up in every corner of the world. These cyber- shops offer you a place to work and socialize while sipping coffee and juices or munching on baked goods and sandwiches.
“What we’ve done is create an environment that’s very social, where it promotes communications among everyone,” says Ricardo Nichols, owner of NetCafe, in Brooklyn, New York, a 1,000-sq.-ft shop with a distinctly modern, jazzy feel. “That transcends into what the Internet is all about, the ability to communicate and exchange information,” says Nichols.
Communication in the form of e-mail is the most common reason why people are using the Internet. Since you typically don’t need to access e-mail for more than a few minutes at a time, having your own computer isn’t always necessary. According to Fabrik Communications Inc., a San Francisco business messaging service provider, e-mail users will grow from about 100 million people globally at the end of 1996 to more than 300 million in 2000.
NetCafe, which opened in February, caters to students and professionals and is strategically located within walking distance of five colleges. As well as offering a selection of natural fruit juices, biscuits and coffee cakes, the shop has a stable of 10 Pentium computers with high- speed connection to the Internet, color scanners, printers and high-end software. Nichols’ NetCafe charges a rate of $10 an hour for computer use. (Cybercafe services typically are charged on an hourly basis.)
Along famed Route 66 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sits the Webolution Cafe, established in April. At Webolution, you can open an e- mail account, which includes a personal e-mail address, for about $10 per month.
The cafe attracts travelers, business people, professionals and others who do Web research, play Internet games or join chat rooms. “We’re pretty relaxed,” says Web master Mark Simenson. “We have computers spread around along the walls. You can look around and talk to people who are here.” There is no pattern to how people use Webolution Cafe, since they come in at their convenience. There is even a happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the week when the normal $7 an hour rate is cut in half. To find a cybercafe