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Safest park bench in Britain opens for business

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For those who've ever felt a burning urge to log on in the middle of a park, life just got better.

Yesterday residents of Bury St Edmunds were given a cyberbench. As we explained in July, this is a normal brown wooden bench fitted with four modem sockets where surfers can plug in their laptops.

The seat is part of a trial by MSN, which will foot the phone bill for those using the bench for the next three months - a small price to pay for the amount of publicity it has attracted.

After that it will be up to St Edmundsbury Borough Council to decide whether or not to keep the piece of cyberfurniture.

This will depend on how popular the experiment is, a council representative said today. There is the great British weather to contend with, plus the threat of vandalism.

Nothing much they can do about the first problem, but a park-keeper will be on "regular patrol" in the area to combat the vandals, while the 14-foot stone wall around the gardens will hopefully also serve as a small deterrent.

According to one MSN representative, security may be stepped up even further. The company is actually thinking about getting a Webcam to watch over the bench. But surely, in this kleptomaniac country, they'll need Webcam to watch the Webcam. And a Webacam to watch that one...

The council is also looking into the possibility of charging people to access cyberspace from the bench once the three-month free period is up. Quite how this would be administered remains a mystery.

However, the parks of Britain are not destined to become littered with MSN cyberbenches. For MSN this is just a one-off trial. "We're not in the business of selling Internet benches," the company pointed out.

And Bury St Edmunds need not think it has the monopoly on cyber-madness - not to be outdone, Manchester now boasts its very own Irish-themed cybercafe.

This nice little Irish sandwich bar in Mosely Street lets punters sit and surf while tucking into their Celtic fare. Thanks to reader Roy Ellor for bringing this gem to our attention. ®

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