What Ever Happened to Netopia?
It's been more than a decade since I stepped inside Netopia, the shop that popularized the term internet cafe in the Philippines. Today, Netopia has become a relic, one of the forgotten icons from the past two decades.
Netopia was founded in 1996 by Digital Paradise Inc. At the time, the Philippines only had 0.1 percent internet penetration among households. In 2001, when Netopia only had 19 branches in the country, PLDT acquired a 40 percent majority stake in the company with just a P24-million investment. This acquisition was instrumental in the growth of Netopia. PLDT drove Netopia’s aggressive expansion in 2005, such that by 2006, Netopia had over 180 branches nationwide, strategically located near schools and residential areas.
Netopia became popular in the mid 2000s when the most common alternative was dial-up internet connection, a notoriously slow and unreliable way to connect to the internet. ISP Bonanza’s prepaid internet cards were commonly used.
Filipinos without internet access regularly visited Netopia’s “computer shops” to play video games, print documents, and log in to Friendster, the first social media platform that saw widespread use around the world, especially in the Philippines.
What happened to Netopia?
Internet cafes were bound to be irrelevant when the country’s largest telecommunications company decided to bring internet to the homes of every Filipino. Netopia’s owners realized that sooner or later, Filipinos would choose to have faster and reliable internet service at home rather than go out to internet cafes.
When the iPhone came in 2007, it spelled doom for Netopia. It meant internet access for smartphone users not only when they were home, but also when they were mobile. PLDT foresaw this, that’s why in 2010, it sold its then 75-percent stake in Netopia to IP E-Games Ventures, Inc.
At the time, Netopia served over 1.5 million customers monthly, 80 percent of whom were 16 to 35 years old, according to its now-defunct website.
Netopia slowly faded into obscurity after the smartphone was introduced. From over 180 branches in 2006, Netopia’s number of stores dwindled to just 14 branches in 2018.
According to the company that bought it, Netopia’s slide was due to the number of places offering free WiFi and the reliance on smartphones.
“The increase in locations offering free Wi-Fi, the proliferation of portable gaming devices; and shift in consumer use of mobile devices as a result of an improving economy that allows more people to acquire mobile devices,” said IP E-Games in a statement.
Even though you may not see Netopia shops in every corner of the city anymore, visiting it was a memorable experience during the dark ages of internet connection in the Philippines. When everybody was struggling with dial-up internet and ISP Bonanza, Netopa was there as the unofficial national computer shop of the Philippines.