Cyber cafes that once mushroomed across the city and its sprawling suburbs have fallen on bad days after cheaper mobile phone handsets with internet access inundated the market.
And telecom providers drastically slashing their call rates for busy sectors left the cafes further devastated.
Rising shop rents came as a further jolt and had a multiplying affect, forcing several cafes to either shutter down or switch their business.
Affordable calls rates by telecom providers had a double impact as they almost wiped off the illegal internet telephony service providers that had been thriving until recently.
The telephony services were provided by expatriates in violation of the law, and crackdowns by law-enforcement officials saw many of them closed even before the telecom providers reduced their call rates.
About two years ago, for example, an Indian working as an imam in a mosque was deported after being repeatedly warned by the authorities to stop the illegal business. Many internet cafes have closed down because their business had been suffering due to the twin factors of internet services’ availability on cheaper mobile phone handsets on low charges and affordable call rates.
And those cafes that continue to operate braving the odds say their revenues are down at least 25 percent or more in the past two to three years.
“Our business isn’t the same. We have fewer customers as most people call their relatives and friends home using their mobile phones,” said an official in-charge of a small café in Doha.
He requested anonymity as he was not allowed to talk to the media and said even if the café’s location was mentioned the owners would know he gave the information since his is the only cyber café in that locality.
A vast majority of café visitors are low-income single workers. “Most of them have mobile handsets now that give them easy access to the internet at cheaper rates,” said the café operator.
“A majority of our customers are Nepalese, Indians and Egyptians,” he said. “There has been a considerable reduction in their numbers.”
An Indian from a southern state who gave his name as Mahadevan said now that he could call home for 19 dirhams a minute using telecom services on his mobile phone, there was no need to either visit a café or an illegal internet telephony services.
“I used to visit either an illegal telephony service joint or a cyber café every second day to call my family. Now I don’t because of the low mobile call rates,” he said. “For five riyals I can speak for 20 to 25 minutes.”
The cafes had a gala time until 2009 and 2010, the operator who spoke on grounds of anonymity said. “I think our business cycle is coming to an end.”
He said he wasn’t worried, for if his sponsor decided to switch to some other business, he would retain him. “This business is hard to sustain.”
Long holidays during Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha are the time when the internet cafes used to have brisk business in their hey-days.
“That isn’t the case anymore. We used to have long queues as single workers would come in hordes. You can see there aren’t as many people on the third day of Eid when the holidays are still on,” said the operator.
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