Internet Café on Samal Island Connects with P5 Coin

BABAK, ISLAND GARDEN CITY OF SAMAL — Thanks to an enterprising computer buff, the island boasts of an Internet café that functions like a public telephone station: its PCs accept P5 coins for 10 minutes of Internet surfing.

One afternoon, an old woman went into the Internet café under the Internet Terminal Machines Services, Inc., put a P5 coin into a slot in the computer, then talked with her daughter working in Singapore as domestic helper. Minutes later, the old woman started wiping her face as she cried while talking with her daughter on the other end.

“This is a usual scenario. That is what pushed me to come up with this idea of an Internet café,” said Oliver Curato, company head.

Mr. Curato could have stayed at home and just monitor his Internet café as he has set up an intranet service with cameras. But that day, he decided to go to the café for this interview.

The idea, he said, was a product of a two-year experiment and piloting that ended when he decided to set up for one month a similar Internet café in Matina Balusong in Davao City. When he thought business was slow, he decided to pull out the machines and started to operate in Babak. “I thought that I cannot compete there because Davao City is already saturated [with Internet cafés]. Besides, the idea is for the rural setting,” said the 36-year-old entrepreneur.

Unlike most of the Internet cafés in urban centers which are dependent on the telephone system, Mr. Curato’s establishment runs on wireless fidelity system since there is no telephone line here.

Thinking that P30 is expensive for an hour of surfing, Mr. Curato said he had devised a mechanism where P25 will allow the client to surf for an hour, but also gives him the option to surf for 10 minutes for only P5. “We can do a lot of surfing and sending e-mails with P5,” he said.

The computers are designed to run using 12-volt car batteries, making the café self-sufficient, especially in areas where brownouts are frequent.

Mr. Curato also built the computers so power consumption would be about one-fourth of the usual level. “They can even run on solar panels,” he said, noting he will also set up solar panels for his Internet café.

“I learned from the experience of my brother [who has an Internet café in Cebu] that the biggest overhead expenses [in this business] are in power bills. So I decided to find ways to reduce it. Now, my computers are running at a much lower power consumption,” he said.

Mr. Curato also reduced the computers’ heating emission, “so the air-conditioning unit will only be intended for the people in the café, not the computers.” The platforms where the computers were set up can be detached so that at any given time, Mr. Curato can reduce or add more computers even without a carpenter. Also, two computers share a box for their mother boards.

Mr. Curato also bought flat-bed monitors which, although more expensive than the conventional ones, are lower in power consumption and space efficient.

Mr. Curato, now 36, has always been fascinated with electronics since he was a kid, helping in the family business, the Davao Communications, Inc., a retailer of two-radios and other electronics spare parts and equipment.

He opened the café in June with six computers. But by the end of the month, eight more were added. He will add another six computers to accommodate customers who line up especially in the afternoons and evenings. “Our target is to open 100 stations within the year. By then we will be break even with our investments,” he said.

As of this writing, he was set to open a branch in Peñaplata, also in this city, and will soon start setting up in other rural areas, particularly in Davao Oriental.

“We already have our maps of areas where similar Internet cafés will be set up,” Mr. Curato said.

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