EVEN THOUGH the history of networked computing goes back to the 1960s, the Internet did not reach Slovakia until the Cold War was over - almost 30 years later. In 1989 the borders opened, and today 7 per cent of Slovakia's population accesses the Internet on a regular basis.
People living in Slovakia have several options when it comes to getting online. If you do not have Internet access at your workplace, or are restricted in the amount of time you can surf at work, you can either connect at home or use a computer at an Internet cafe.
However, foreigners should be prepared to pay more for these services than they used to pay back home. The reason for this is that the local telecom market is still dominated by a single player - Slovak Telecom. Although its monopoly expired at the end of 2002, market liberalisation has not really happened yet.
Getting online at home is the most comfortable way of joining the club. There are around 20 nationwide Internet service providers (ISPs) in Slovakia and they all offer similar services for similar prices. The largest ones are Nextra, Slovanet, and Slovak Telecom.
You can opt for a dial-up (telefonické pripojenie) connection via a phone line, which is designed mainly for households and small firms. The prices for dial-up are calculated according to when you get online and for how long. You are charged a monthly fee and for the number of minutes you are online. The most popular local operator, Nextra, for instance, offers dial-up service for Sk299 per month. With this service you must also pay for the amount of time you are online - one minute costs around Sk0.80 during the week, and Sk0.40 on weekends.
Broadband Internet access is offered mainly through ISDN and microwave connections. Charges are based on the speed of your connection and the amount of computers that are using it.
If you need access to the Internet only once in a while, and you do not have a computer of your own, you can visit an Internet cafe (internetová kaviareň) where you can order a cup of coffee while you surf the web. There are also places called Internet clubs, which usually offer access to the 'Net only and do not serve beverages.
The first Internet cafe in Slovakia opened in Nitra in 1991. Today, there are many throughout the country. Bratislava has around 30, and Cafe Online, on Obchodná Street, has 60 computers.
People often visit Internet cafes to check their e-mail or surf the Internet, but some go just to use a word processor. While the 'Net connection costs about Sk60 per hour, if you are only working on a Word document you should expect to pay half that price. You can also print (tlačiť), copy (kopírovať), and scan (skenovať), but be prepared to pay extra for these services.
In some Internet cafes you pay after you have finished working on the computer, and in others you pay up front. When you pay up front you are sometimes given a username and password with which to access the computer.
The assistants in Internet cafes are usually young people who speak English. Advice is often free if you need it, but don't be surprised if you have to pay for this as well.
Foreign Affairs is a regular column devoted to helping expats and foreigners navigate the thrills and spills of life in Slovakia.
27. Jan 2003 at 0:00 | Kristína Havasová