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Surf's up at Košice's Internet Café

KOŠICE - Riding an international wave of public centers for Internet surfing, Košice has thrust itself onto the tide's tip as Slovakia's first locale for hooking onto the global computer network in a pay-as-you-go style. Opened on July 17, the Internet Café is Slovakia's first but not only site that offers full access to the Internet to anyone who pays a half-hour flat fee. For Juraj Barta, director of Novisys, the Košice-based retail and wholesale computer company, the café is a natural evolution from his core business of offering original information technology solutions. "We found something we could offer that no competitor here has," Barta said.


Grab a byte with your coffee. Košice residents can now access the global computer network at the Internet Café.
Vladimír Hák

KOŠICE - Riding an international wave of public centers for Internet surfing, Košice has thrust itself onto the tide's tip as Slovakia's first locale for hooking onto the global computer network in a pay-as-you-go style. Opened on July 17, the Internet Café is Slovakia's first but not only site that offers full access to the Internet to anyone who pays a half-hour flat fee.

For Juraj Barta, director of Novisys, the Košice-based retail and wholesale computer company, the café is a natural evolution from his core business of offering original information technology solutions. "We found something we could offer that no competitor here has," Barta said.

Come September, it will also appear in Bratislava. Technopol will open an Internet café at its Petržalka headquarters that will feature five IBM compatible computer terminals connected to EuNet, according to a Technopol representative. Two other cafés are expected to sprout up soon thereafter, one at the Hotel Perugia backed by a private company, while the state and EuNet will front the other at the Slovak National Museum. Yet another Internet café sprouted up ths month inSlovakia, this time in Banská Bystrica. Armed with five computer terminals, The Web Pollux company offers hookupthrough EuroTel for 15 Sk per quarter hour in the Ďatalinka building on Rudlovská 8.

Novisys has a jump on the others in terms of timing, but also because it has a close relationship with its parent company Novitech, which provided the café with its Internet source and inexpensive space in an under-utilized section of the Novitech complex on Timonova ulica.

Novitech designs complex information systems for mid-sized and large companies. Through its special relationship with the multinational computer company IBM, it also provides exclusive access to subscribers who want to mount IBM's Internet backbone.

Other firms big and small pitched in various items ranging from coffee pots to laser printers to help the café lower its start-up costs. All told, Novisys's investment was "about a million Slovak crowns," Barta said.

A month after starting, the Internet Café is struggling to meet costs, yet Barta believes that by the end of the year it will reach the break-even point. "It's a question of marketing," he said. "Once people know what this is, I believe they will start coming."

Ellie Boultbee, café manager at the NetGates café in Bristol, England (a city roughly the same size as Košice), reported a similar experience. Boultbee, who started her cafť last February, noted that "Our biggest mistake was expecting to be busy as soon as we opened for business." Since May, though, she realized her business was going to make it. "It's definitely picking up steadily," she said. "We have slowly but surely built up a core of regular customers which is growing daily."

Many of Košice's café visitors are repeats who are mostly satisfied, but harbor some criticism, especially with the café's e-mail capabilities. "I'm glad it's here," said Robert Hewins, an American who is an Internet project consultant in Košice. "But e-mail is frightfully slow." Karen Kinsey, another American customer, confirmed that. "Last week I was here for three-and-a-half hours just getting my e-mail," Kinsey said.

Robin Clark of England, who collects information on Internet access for travellers, said net cafés need "to make sure that people can send e-mail easily and quickly." Most people, Clark added, need simply "to send, read and delete e-mail in a net café," while they use other Internet services mainly at home.

While Novisys can't speed up access to Slovakia's Internet backbone, "they could at least give some price incentive to people to stay in the café longer," Kinsey said. At present, customers pay 60 Sk per half hour, and the only way to get discounts is to buy time in volume beforehand.

Responding to the barbs, Novisys's management points out that the café is still "pre-opening," and maintain they are learning from the feedback. Half of the café's six part-time student workers speak fair English.

For the foreign business traveller, temporary e-mail boxes are available for customers from a few days to a few weeks. Other services offered by the café include private web-page setup and sales of Internet-related magazines and other literature. Eight computer terminals (seven IBM, one Macintosh) provide the access. Hours are 11:00 to 19:00, Monday through Saturday.

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