By Tri Hafiningsih
JAKARTA (JP): For 15-year old Wulan, chatting with someone through the internet is ""her kind of thing,"" besides going to movies, listening to her favorite music, or discussing the latest gossip with her peers.
But the same hobby at home would cost more than she could afford. ""I once had to pay over Rp 1 million for a month's phone bill,"" complained Wulan's mother. So, her mother Henny told her to go to a warnet (Internet kiosk) instead, and pay with her own pocket money.
That would not be difficult for Wulan. Warnet are mushrooming all over the city, including in her neighborhood in Tebet, South Jakarta. At least five new warnet have opened in the area in the last three months. While the rate for using the Internet in a shopping mall could be as high as Rp 12,000 per hour, Wulan just pays Rp 5,000. She gets a student discount if she uses the computer for over two hours.
""I often pay less as I share it with my classmates and friends,"" she said, adding that beside chatting, she could scan through the latest Disney movies, fashion trends, or gossip about world celebrities.
Warnet have become an important commodity in the daily lives of many, especially young people. You can access the latest information on anything you can think of. From the computers installed in these tiny shops, you can just click a few times to get information on the latest movies, tips to buy an affordable, used car, jobs on the market, or the latest calculation of the world population. Sending or receiving e-mails are other ""usual"" things you can do.
For Mita and Arief, high school and university students respectively, warnet are good sources of information as they do not have Internet at home. Mita goes to warnet to look for information on various subjects for her schoolwork.
""I don't have to read too many books, when I need more information on 'Satellite Images,'"" said Mita, recalling her latest schoolwork using Internet-based information. While for a student majoring in Literature like Arief, browsing the internet is a fun way of learning literature. ""I often do it for hours,"" he said.
The demand is high, so the warnet business seems to be enjoying prosperous times right now. But the competition is tough. Mushrooming warnet owners have to think of something new to attract customers.
The newly-opened Lafanet provides computer rental for a lower rate, besides the usual Internet facilities. Those who want to type long letters or write essays can use this service. Unlike some other warnet which charge the general public more than students, Lafanet sets the price of Rp 5,000 per hour for both the general public as well as students.
Another warnet, Casablanca-Net, opens early and closes at midnight.
Various methods are used to attract Internet fans as well as newcomers to the warnet. Some of the kiosks have started to slash their rates to do so. Some of the kiosks on the outskirts of Depok, where many schools and universities are located, offer services for only Rp 4,000 per hour.
Siberinet owner Hastiyudo Wibowo expressed concern over such unfeasible price cuts for the service saying that it would only damage the future of the business.
""They should instead provide better services or diversify the services to achieve better positioning in the business,"" he said.
New options for Internet fans in warnet are available and it is changing fast.
E-mail clients, web-site designs or VoIP are some of the options which could be offered by warnet, Hastiyudo said. ""If we can't keep up, we'll be left behind,"" he said.
He said the new services would also open up warnet to a wider range of users, not just students or the younger generation who are their main customers now. ""We can cater to a broader general public from all levels if we have what they need, like housewives or other professionals, for instance,"" Hastiyudo said.
Another warnet owner said that there are still great opportunities in the business. ""There are still too many people who simply know nothing about the Internet,"" said Santo, who owns an Internet kiosk in Ambassador shopping mall in South Jakarta.
He believes despite the mushrooming of newly opened kiosks all across Jakarta, the market for new warnet users is still promising.
He said the situation is more or less the same as when people started to use cellular phones. ""People have been familiar with mobile phone technology for around five years, yet the business is still booming,"" he said.
Cases of price slashing of warnet services, are also one of the issues discussed in the AWARI (Indonesian Internet Kiosk Association) meetings recently. The organization was established just over three months ago with a mission to provide easy and cheap access of information to all levels of the society through warnet, as well as to overcome problems faced by members, relating to government permits and regulations in the business.
But so far, there is no consensus on a feasible, minimum charge for Internet users in warnet.
The chairman of the association Rudi Rusdiah said there should be a better solution than a ""price war"".