Since learning how to use the Internet in 1999, Sok Sovannak has spent four to five hours a day after school sitting in front of a computer.
“I have been using the Internet for four years,” said the 19-year-old high school student. “My friends and I always come to use the Internet to search for new information and e-mail [our] friends abroad.”
“I can’t live without a computer with the Internet. I can get new information and can find good schools at which I want to continue my studies,” he said.
Meas Somkhea, owner of Vini Net in Phnom Penh, said at least 80 students—girls and boys—use the Internet in his shop everyday.
He hasn’t always seen so much business though. “The price was $5 per hour when I first opened the door [in 1999], and I got only a few customers, mainly foreigners,” Meas Somkhea said. “Two years later, the price was cut to $2 per hour, but right now the price is only $1 per hour because there are more Internet shops.”
He said for regular customers he sometimes charges only 3,000 riel (about $0.75) per hour.
One of his customers, Serei Khemra, 17, said she has been using the Internet for two years and goes online whenever she has free time from school. “I always chat and e-mail to my friends in Australia,” she said, adding that she likes to scan photographs into the computer to send to her friends.
Aside from keeping in touch with friends, Serei Khemra said she has improved her writing skills and found a school abroad, where she hopes to continue her studies.
“They are increasing the Internet shops now, and it’s easy to find [them], but in previous years it was too difficult,” she said.
Ryan Hem, manager of Kids Internet Lab, agreed that the demand for Internet services has boomed. He said he now is getting many contracts to teach the Cambodian employees of NGOs how to use the Internet. He said most of his clients are in their early 20s or younger and improve their English by communicating with people overseas.
Some Internet cafe owners have learned through declining business which Cambodians are likely to spend hours online. Those cafes that are not proximal to schools and universities have found themselves edged out by newer businesses that have sprung up near campuses.
“Around 70 to 80 students, male and female, used to use the Internet in my shop,” said Mar Sokunthea, owner of Nitha Center. “I am unhappy. About 30 to 40 use the Internet now in my shop because of the increase of Internet shops.”
Oy Sithat, the official in charge of the Domain Name System of the information technology office for the Ministry of Post and Telecommunication, agreed.
“There is an increase in Internet cafes asking for licenses,” she said.
She said there now are 148 licensed Internet cafes in Cambodia and many more that operate without licenses. This growth shows no sign of slowing as the Internet becomes integral in more and more daily lives.
“Not knowing how to use the Internet is like [being] a frog in a well that doesn’t know what has happened in the world,” Sok Sovannak said.