The digital divide prevents many computer users throughout the world from owning a personal computer and connecting to the Internet. Even in the United States, certain areas do not have low cost Internet access. For people challenged by these conditions, an Internet cafe is a great option. From simple, no-frills outposts to restaurants, coffeehouses and cafes serving food and drinks, Internet cafes provide a vital service for would-be web surfers.
The first known Internet cafe appeared in London in 1994. Its founder, Ivan Pope, created it for the Institute of Contemporary Art by installing several Macintosh computers with Internet access at a weekend art symposium. Pope called his service a cybercafé. North America's first Internet cafe, the Binary Cafe and Hexadecimal Emporium, opened in Toronto, Canada, in 1994, too. Unfortunately, it also closed the same year. By the turn of the century, many countries in Asia, Africa and Europe had seen the Internet cafe come of age as a commercial enterprise.
Internet cafes do not follow any specific set-up rules. Some are operated by nonprofits, while others are purely commercial. It is up to the owner-operator to decide what types of service to offer. For the most part, however, in the developed world you can expect to find an Internet cafe that combines computer access with an additional service or business. In some cases, the Internet cafe actually does serve food and drinks at its location. In other cases, people set up cafes in bookstores or in a corner of a service business such as a computer or office supply store.
The primary features that all Internet cafes share are a publicly accessible location where more than one computer can be looked up to an Internet service provider. Many Internet cafes offer patrons a chance to use relatively new PC computers with either a dial-up, broadband or dedicated T1 Internet connection.
Most Internet cafes charge users by the hour. Some even charge by the minute or increments of an hour. Rates vary by city and by country. Computers in Internet cafes have a web browser installed, along with some popular office productivity software. Patrons can usually save their files to their own disks and portable storage devices or purchase disks from the owners. Often, using the computer offline and printing are options, but the user pays for these items separately.
Traveling to remote or underdeveloped areas of the world often results in an inability to connect to the Internet even when you take your laptop with you. If you stay with friends who have Internet access, it could be maddeningly slow dial-up. Even worse, they may not have an unlimited service plan. Internet cafes can help you stay you connected almost anywhere in the United States and world.