National Capital FreeNet / Libertel de la Capitale nationale

Executive Director's 1999 Annual Report

Submitted by:
Christopher L. Cope
NCF Executive Director
March 02, 2000


  1. Introduction
  2. Administration & Funding
  3. Member Services


The needs and wants of NCF members are fundamentally changing, as the way we obtain information, communicate and do business changes in step with global trends. Where once members were excited by text-only connections and modem speeds were not an issue, we now find increasingly, that members want faster modems and access to new services.

Compounding this challenge is a desire to support a range of members who connect with a great diversity of equipment and Internet protocols. Many of the early adopters of NCF are still active, and about 45% still prefer the text-based system, and connect using modest equipment. At the same time, new users typically connect using PPP mode and complications increase as we attempt to simplify PPP connections without creating problems for our text users.

We were fortunate in 1999 however, to have an opportunity to extend our reach and the level of community interest in NCF, through several of the projects which we undertook. Projects such as Industry Canada's VolNet program, Industry Canada's Community Access program and more recently our submission to HRDC's Community Learning Networks program which resulted in the go-ahead on our Thin Client project help us to add new sustaining services, while creating content and enhancing awareness. Such projects have the added benefit that infrastructure added or improved to facilitate our project work, becomes a lasting legacy for all FreeNet members to enjoy.

We continue to struggle with the persistent misperception that FreeNet is somehow a totally different technology, without any relationship to the Internet. Exit interviews conducted with former FreeNet members repeatedly reveal that they have left FreeNet because they "wish to go on the Internet."

Our challenge in 2000 will be to continue to offer a reliable and constant service, correct this misperception that we are a "lesser Internet provider" while upgrading and enhancing our service and equipment in an attempt to respond to our members wants and needs.

2. Administration & Funding

  1. Registrations
    Some 2,521 new members joined FreeNet throughout the year, averaging approximately 210 per month. While making a donation is still not mandatory, just under half (47.5%) of our new registrants donated this year. This represented an improvement over 1998 where only 43% of our new members donated. The average donation in 1999 was $23.50 however, a slight decline from 1998's $23.79. Revenue from new registrations totalled $28,153 for the year.

  2. Renewals
    In 1999, 6,587 members renewed their FreeNet account. Of these, 84% donated at time of renewal. This is a significant improvement on 1998 where only 66.7% of our renewing members donated. The average renewal donation in 1999 was $26.92; again, a marked improvement on 1998's average of $16.17 Revenue from renewals totalled $149,521 for the year.

  3. Membership Activity
    Our roster of active members closed at 10,325, down from 16,691 at the beginning of the year. This decline was greatest early in the year, and slowed towards year-end.

  4. Homepage Data and Information Providers
    NCF continues to be an important resource for individuals, not-for-profits and small businesses. At year-end, 841 or approximately 8.1% of our members had personal homepages hosted on FreeNet. Our text menu system contained some 1,025 Information Provider menus and approximately 225 organizations located webpages on our servers.

  5. Member Usage Data
    FreeNet members connected to NCF approximately 3,600,000 times during the year, averaging about 69,000 sessions per week, a figure that remained fairly stable throughout the year, although lowest between September and November. Of this total, the number of text sessions represented approximately 43% of the total with PPP users representing about 57% of the number of sessions.

    The number of unique users averaged 7,953 throughout the year and again, remained moderately stable with a high of 12,713 in November and a low of 7,187 in January.

3. Member Services

  1. Modem Sharing
    In January we installed software written by Jim Elder's (aa456) to regulate the usage of our modems. The new system continued to enforce our session length and time limit rules, but compensated for modem conditions by allowing members to remain connected when there were sufficient idle modems.

  2. Mailing List Software (Majordomo)
    Early in the year, we installed Majordomo, software that facilitates our hosting of mailing lists. The first test group was the NCF volunteers list, which was particularly useful during several FreeNet events such as the Harvest Ride, Picnic etc.

  3. Flyers
    1999 marked the development of an entirely new and modified NCF flyer. Our new flyer was designed to be "family-friendly" and double as a membership application. By year's end, we had finished a companion French version, which offered a similarly friendly document in French.

    Flyer Distribution is well underway with substantial quantities delivered through our VolNet recipients. Distributed at several FreeNet events, and now at available all libraries in the region.

  4. Volunteer Co-ordination
    The "minimum contribution scheme" had a beneficial effect on volunteering early in the year, although the volume of new recruits fell off somewhat as we continued to massage and improve the Renewal Letter. Personal requests by our existing volunteers, staff and Board continued to represent the most effective source of volunteers.

  5. Centrex telephone contracts
    Carleton University proceeded with a tendering process to obtain the best price for telephone service for several hundred of their own lines and our 169. The contract was renewed with Bell Canada for two years with no change in the rate that we have been enjoying for a number of years.

  6. Corporate Donations
    1. Hardware Canada Computing
      On March 15, 1999, Hardware Canada Computing (now - a leading manufacturer of Linux, UNIX, and Windows based systems donated a Horizon UltraSparc IIi UNIX Workstation to National Capital FreeNet (NCF). This donation is valued at over $8,500. The server, which has considerably more capacity and speed than any of our other machines, was immediately put to work to consolidate several heavy demand services.

    2. Newbridge Networks
      Newbridge Networks donated two (2) Sun Sparc10 machines to us on April 28th, 1999. These two machines, a most generous donation were the first instalment of a sizeable donation of networking equipment. The second shipment included one 20-port Xyplex MX-1620 terminal and a quantity of 8-port 10/100 high-speed ethernet switches known as GeoRim/Es. This equipment, which was sent from Newbridge's California office, allowed us to remove some bottlenecks, speed up and strengthen our network. A huge thank you goes out to Chris Hawley (ah654) who is not only the mastermind behind this project, but also the principal negotiator.

    3. Netscape
      Netscape Communications donated the latest version of their Suite-Spot server software. This new web and email server software will provide NCF with the most robust and scalable server software available, as well as a method of accessing NCF email from the Web.

  7. Projects
    1. Industry Canada - Urban CAP Program
      NCF was retained to develop an Urban CAP rollout strategy. The report was completed at the end of March 1999 and submitted to Industry Canada.

    2. Industry Canada - VolNet
      A partnership between NCF and The Volunteer Centre of Ottawa-Carleton was among the first nine agencies across Canada to be contracted as delivery agents for Industry Canada's VolNet program. The project involves the delivery of Industry Canada's standard services packages to some 250 Volunteer sector organizations in the Ottawa region. Services include provision of new or recycled computers, Internet connections, webpages etc. from FreeNet, hands-on and classroom training for the recipient agencies, including manuals and teaching aids. Industry Canada negotiated a national arrangement with a single supplier to subsidise the cost of all new computers, and subsidised the cost of recycled computers obtained locally.

      We commenced work on the "Assessment Phase" for the Ottawa region on April 1, 1999, continued with the "Delivery Phase" throughout the balance of the year and expect to be fully complete with all components of the program by the end of the "Evaluation Phase" March 31, 2000.

    3. Extended Access II - R.M.O.C.
      Midway through 1999, R.M.O.C. agreed to host our second "Extended Access" site. Newbridge Networks had tentatively agreed to donate a new 32 port terminal server complete with built-in modems, and Bell Canada had agreed to provide the time-of-day scheduling for the telephone service. We had hoped to initiate this service early in the fall, but as part of their Y2K readiness planning, R.M.O.C. requested that we postpone the project as they wished to operate under a "clean software" environment until well into the year 2000. In the lull, Newbridge Networks underwent significant restructuring and the individuals championing our case have now left the company. In order to revive the project, we are seeking an alternative source of equipment.

    4. HRDC Student Employment Program - CapitalFind:
      During the summer, we were able to take advantage of HRDC's Student Employment Program 1999 in conjunction with the Federal Student Work Experience Program and Job Bank Canada to move our CapitalFind project ( along considerably. Jamie Oastler (ek109) worked from June 21st, 1999 to August 27th, 1999. And completed 6 Complete sections comprised of nearly 100 webpages.

    5. HRDC (Office of Learning Technology) Thin Client:
      In March of 1999, the NCF submitted a letter of intent to establish an NCF Thin Client Service under the Community Learning Networks initiative, managed by the Office of Learning Technologies, a part of Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). The National Capital FreeNet (NCF) Thin Client Service will provide NCF members, including those members who have relatively modest computers, with access to some of the latest Windows-based office automation and web authoring applications. The software applications will be hosted on a specialised server, with the network connection between the client and the server transporting only the keystrokes, mouse clicks and screen refresh updates to the member's client computer (the client computer logs onto the thin client server and runs programs on the remote server).

      In December of 1999, HRDC approved the NCF's Thin Client Service Business Plan and agreed to provide up to $260,600 over three years in funding for the establishment of the service, with partners Corel Corporation, Citrix Systems Inc., Microsoft Canada. Ltd., and Softquad Software providing matching funding through donations of service and/or products to enable the project to proceed.

  8. Events
    1. 6th Birthday
      NCF's 6th Birthday party, organised by the Events Co-ordination Team was held February 2, 1999 at RMOC Headquarters. Turnout was excellent, with approximately 100 people showing up for the festivities. CBO Radio's John Lacharity once again did a wonderful job as our Master of Ceremonies.

      David Sutherland (aa001) greeted the guests with a warm Chairman's Message. Richard Bethell gave a very professional presentation on CapitalFind and the Capital Calendar, and Jeff Bossert (au025) talked about current projects and thanked our Key partners

      Special recognition was given to three of NCF's Key partners: Mitel Corporation, represented by René Dalle, (NCF Volunteer of the Month for February); Magma Communications, represented by Dave Cobey; And Plaintree Systems, who were not represented at the ceremony. Several door prizes, consisting of software packages, were awarded.

      The event received news coverage from CJOH-TV on the late evening news, and repeated the following morning. Gordon Pearson reported on the event as well, in his monthly "FREEbytes" column in the February issue of Monitor Magazine.

    2. Picnic
      The annual FreeNet Picnic was held on Saturday, July 17, 1999. Despite occasional "near monsoon level" storm conditions with high winds, participants had fun, swapped war stories, munched on hot dogs and hamburgers and enjoyed the facilities at Britannia Park. With revenue from food sales offsetting event expenses, the picnic was held at near break-even expense.

    3. Throop Photographic Harvest Ride
      The Harvest Ride did much to raise the profile of NCF, with some 200 participants and extensive media coverage. The Ottawa Sun donated their inside back cover in full cover on four separate days. Radio station 106.9 FM "The Bear" provided dozens of plugs, a live interview with John Calvert (of CfSC) and myself and a live remote from the site. Monitor Magazine, in addition to providing all printing for the event itself, including flyers etc., Monitor ran large colour ads leading up to the even and Gordon Pearson's FreeBytes column talked about the affair extensively for the two months leading up to the event. The Kanata Kourier-Standard ran three stories prior to the even and a post event story. Nepean This Week ran a post event story, with two large pictures.

    4. Auction
      The annual NCF Auction was launched on November 17, 1999. This year, the auction was in a web format and many items were listed complete with illustrations. Rather than a fixed ending date for the auction itself, each individual auction item had its own unique closing date, providing an opportunity to keep the auction interesting.

      All items sold, were items donated to NCF (or surplus equipment) and all proceeds went to NCF. NCF members were automatically be registered to bid on auction items, but anyone with a valid email address (for auction password retrieval) was able to bid.

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