The concept and name, Cybercafé, was invented at the beginning of 1994 by Ivan Pope. Commissioned to develop an Internet event for an arts weekend at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. Pope wrote a proposal outlining the concept of a café with Internet access from the tables. The event was run over the weekend of 12-13 March 1994 during the 'Towards the Aesthetics of the Future' event.
After an initial appearance at the confrence site of the 5th International Symposium on Electronic Art, ISEA, in August 1994, an establishment called CompuCafe was established in Helsinki, Finland, featuring both Internet access and a robotic beer seller.
A variation of Internet café called PC bang (similar to LAN gaming center) became extremely popular in South Korea when StarCraft came out in 1997. Although computer and broadband penetration per capita were very high, young people went to PC bangs to play multiplayer games.
Internet cafés are located world-wide, and many people use them when traveling to access webmail and instant messaging services to keep in touch with family and friends. Apart from travelers, in many developing countries Internet cafés are the primary form of Internet access for citizens as a shared-access model is more affordable than personal ownership of equipment. A variation on the Internet café business model is the LAN gaming center, used for multiplayer gaming. These cafés have several computer stations connected to a LAN. The connected computers are custom-assembled for gameplay, supporting popular multiplayer games. This is reducing the need for video arcades and arcade games, many of which are being closed down or merged into Internet cafés. The use of Internet cafés for multiplayer gaming is particularly popular in certain areas of Asia like China, Taiwan, South Korea and The Philippines.
There are also Internet kiosks, Internet access points in public places like public libraries, airport halls, sometimes just for brief use while standing. Many hotels, resorts, and cruise ships offer Internet access for the convenience of their guests; this can take various forms, such as in-room wireless access, or a web browser that uses the in-room television set for its display (usually in this case the hotel provides a wireless keyboard on the assumption that the guest will use it from the bed), or computer(s) that guests can use, either in the lobby or in a business center. As with telephone service, in the US most mid-price hotels offer Internet access from a computer in the lobby to registered guests without charging an additional fee, while fancier hotels are more likely to charge for the use of a computer in their "business center."
For those traveling by road in North America, many truck stops have Internet kiosks, for which a typical charge is around 20 cents per minute.
Internet cafés come in a wide range of styles, reflecting their location, main clientele, and sometimes, the social agenda of the proprietors. In the early days they were important in projecting the image of the Internet as a 'cool' phenomena.
As internet access is in increasing demand, many pubs, bars and cafes have terminals, so the distinction between the Internet cafe and normal café is eroded. In some, particularly European countries, the number of pure Internet cafés is decreasing since more and more normal cafés offer the same services. However, there are European countries where the total number of publicly accessible terminals is also decreasing. An example of such a country is Germany. The cause of this development is a combination of complicated regulation, relatively high internet penetration rates, the widespread use of notebooks and PDAs and the relatively high number of WLAN hotspots. Many pubs, bars and cafés in Germany offer WLAN, but no terminals since the Internet café regulations do not apply if no terminal is offered. Additionally, the use of Internet cafés for multiplayer gaming is very difficult in Germany since the Internet cafe regulations and a second type of regulations which was originally established for video arcade centers applies to this kind of Internet cafes. It is, for example, forbidden for people under the age of 18 to enter such an Internet café, although particularly people under 18 are an important group of customers for this type of Internet café.
While most Internet cafés are private businesses many have been set up to help bridge the 'digital divide', providing computer access and training to those without home access. For example, the UK government has supported the setting up of 6000 telecentres.
In July 2008 the worlds first Internet Cafe on the Internet was released in Karlskoga, Sweden. Virtual Internet Cafe use the same principles as a regular Internet Cafe, but is completely based on the Internet. Users of Virtual Internet Cafe remote control designated Cafe computers instead of using their own computers on the Internet. This gives the users the option to be completely anonymous on the Internet while protecting their own computers from malicious softwares and spywares.
In places with censoring regimes such as Singapore, Internet cafés are closely controlled. In some places computers are in booths to allow private access to pornography. In some areas of Los Angeles they are controlled because they attract street gangs.
Copyright violations by clients are cause for concern by Internet Cafe Operators. For example, the easyInternetcafe chain discontinued its CD burning services because it was held responsible for copyright violations by clients.