Internet cafe owners say new rules already in place
Xinhua yesterday released a new set of regulations for cyber cafes, but Internet bar owners and representatives of the information technology industry were not fazed because many of the rules were already in place or widely rumoured to take effect this year.
The Internet Service Site Business Management Regulations, which will become official on November 15, will let police, fire, culture, commerce and information industry officials licence cyber cafes according to their own specifications.
The national regulations stipulate that owners must set up 'enterprise-style' cafes by showing enough capital to launch a business. They must locate businesses more than 200 metres from elementary or middle schools, close between midnight and 8am and ensure customers do not access any Net content that threatens national security, is pornographic or violent. The new rules also bar minors - children under 16 - from going into Internet bars. Customers should register with identification cards before using a terminal and cafe owners must let authorities see their Internet use records. Fire safety officers will require windows to be left unlocked and doors unblocked. Beijing, Shanghai, Wuhan and other main cities have already lived by these rules for the past two years, especially since a fire in an illegal Beijing cyber cafe killed 24 people in June.
The top fine for violations of the new national rules is 15,000 yuan (about HK$14,100).
Contrary to some predictions, these regulations do not target chat rooms, instant messages or blockages of specific Web sites.
Since Internet use exploded in the late 1990s, authorities have wrestled with a related surge of cyber cafes, which they fear could lead users to anti-government information, pornography and addictions to video games.
'It won't influence us very much, because we've already heard from early on about these rules,' said Deng Deyuan, manager of Internet Coffee in east Beijing. Ms Deng said cyber cafe owners expected authorities to require a minimum floor area of 300 sq metres and a minimum of 100 computers. She said these requirements would indicate the bar owners had made a serious investment. Illegal cyber cafes often operate in single-room spaces with only a few computers.
In Beijing, all cyber cafes were closed after the June fire for re-inspections, which were done according to many of the rules released yesterday.
Chen Zhong, manager of Hongfan cyber cafe, said in Xicheng district of Beijing, eight of the former 150 cyber cafes had re-opened. Sixty have re-opened altogether in Beijing.
He said the regulations should boost the business of fully legal bars by knocking out competitors who do not follow the rules.
Nathan Midler, Asia-Pacific senior analyst with International Data Corp, said nationwide rules also should make cyber cafe operations more consistent from city to city.