Last month I mused on the future of Internet cafe’s in the modern world of free Internet. Now it seems that some business are indeed feeling the pinch. I empathise with the business owner but he is missing the point. As the Internet and Wi-Fi gets cheaper it will become not a revenue stream, but more an essential free service. I wonder if he had considered offering free Wi-Fi himself?
In Nelson’s public libraries during March, Justin Bieber came in third and Snoop Dogg came in fourth in internet searches.
But the only thing internet cafe owner Glenn Baker cares about is why internet users are not searching for these music stars at his business – and paying for it.
Boots Off owner Mr Baker spoke to Nelson city councillors yesterday with fresh statistics he had gathered about what visitors and residents were searching using the library’s free internet service.
The Nelson library provides the service through the Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa (APNK). It is a collaboration between the National Library and public libraries, and provides public access computers in more than 120 public libraries around New Zealand.
Its mission is to allow “everyone [to] benefit from accessing, experiencing and creating digital content”. However, Mr Baker said by allowing free internet it was pushing local businesses “to the verge of extinction”.
“You are taking my business and sticking it in a library.”
He was concerned people, particularly travellers, were exploiting the service, not as an educational tool, but for entertainment.
Top visited social networking sites like Facebook and Bebo were “addictive”, he said.
“And they are just giving it away.”
Other retailers around the city offered free internet as a way to add-value to their product or service, but the library’s policy undermined that as well.
He said there was a concerning trend of travellers mooching off the service.
“What is the library really about? Is it about travellers hanging around in libraries all day or do we want them to get out and see Nelson?”
Councillor Aldo Miccio said anything that made the council run in direct competition with local businesses should be discouraged.
He advocated ending the Wi-Fi contract with APNK so something “more suited to the community” could be created.
Council chief executive Keith Marshall said the service did not cost the council anything, but if it wanted to end its contract with APNK and do it itself it would cost more than $400,000.
The Elma Turner Library has 10 APNK computers, Stoke five and Tahunanui two. The council funded a further 10, but internet access was of a lower grade.
Cr Derek Shaw said retailers of books or magazines never complained about the library taking away their business and doubted the internet issue was any different.
Cr Denise Hennigan said it was a complex public policy issue that needed consideration before a decision could be made.