Christopher L. Cope
NCF Executive Director firstname.lastname@example.org
March 02, 2000
Administration & Funding
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Hardware Canada Computing
On March 15, 1999, Hardware Canada Computing (now
Rebel.com) - 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
HRDC Student Employment Program -
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
(http://www.ncf.ca/capitalfind) along considerably. Jamie
Oastler (ek109) worked from June 21st, 1999 to August 27th,
1999. And completed 6 Complete sections comprised of nearly
HRDC (Office of Learning Technology) Thin
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., Rebel.com and Softquad
Software providing matching funding through donations of
service and/or products to enable the project to
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.