Ahoskie regulates internet cafes

Published 9:15 am Thursday, March 11, 2010

AHOSKIE – A rapidly growing business sector has found its way to Ahoskie and town officials learned there were no ordinances on the books to regulate such entities. On Tuesday, members of the Ahoskie Town Council unanimously approved a zoning ordinance and business fee schedule for those operating an Internet Café.

“There has been an upsurge (of these businesses) in the last few months, not only in Ahoskie, but across the state,” Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond said. “We have no zoning ordinances that apply to these types of businesses.”

Most of the town council members said they were unclear of how an internet café operates. Their questions appeared to be answered during a public hearing on the matter when Neil Hoover of High Point spoke on the topic.

Hoover said he represented H&L Enterprises, a firm that operates 140 internet cafes across the state. He added that his company plans to open one in Ahoskie next week, a business located in Newmarket Shopping Center.

He explained that an internet café is a business where patrons pay to use a computer, whether that usage is for access to the internet (for online games, visiting social networks, researching information, etc.) or to access computer programs (word documents, spreadsheets, etc.).

When asked if the patrons of his type of business were those without a home computer or those with such a device, but did not have access to the internet, Hoover answered, “Not necessarily. Some just like to come in and enjoy the social environment. The majority of our clientele are middle-age women.”

Hoover added that his business charges 20 cents per minute for computer access. The business also sells office supplies (notepads, pencils, pens, markers) as well as offering fax and copy service.

There was much discussion over the “sweepstakes” offered by internet cafes. Hoover explained a sweepstakes, one that offers cash prizes, is used to promote the business. He compared it to similar promotions operated by McDonald’s.

“We operate a clean, safe business,” Hoover said, adding that the Ahoskie location will bring jobs to the area (3 full-time positions and 3 part-time).

He added that his company did not mind the regulations as proposed by Ahoskie officials because, “they drive out the fly-by-night- businesses.”

Hammond noted that the state is now attempting to refine the regulations on these types of businesses.

In the meantime, Hammond proposed amending the town ordinance in an effort to where an internet café can operate.

Adding Internet Sweepstakes and Gaming Cafes to Section 202 of the Ahoskie Zoning Ordinance, Hammond proposed to limit the operation of such businesses to between the hours of 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. (7 days a week). Such an establishment must be a minimum of 500 feet away from any building used as a dwelling and 1,000 feet away from any church, synagogue or temple; a public or private daycare center; non-profit clubs; or any public or private school.

Additionally, these types of business would be prohibited from opening within 1,000 feet of each other. They are also required to provide parking (as per Section 401.11 of the Ahoskie Town Code) and the windows of such businesses are required to be unobtrusive.

Electronic gaming operations, which includes internet cafes, cyber cafes and electronic game parlors, are required to pay, as a Privilege License, a minimum of $5,000 per year or $500 per machine (computer and/or terminal), whichever is greater.

Councilman O.S. “Buck” Suiter Jr. motioned to approve the measures as proposed by Hammond. Councilman Winfred Hardy Jr. offered a second and the motion passed without objection.