As the National Capital FreeNet heads into it's 10th year of operation, I would like to take this time to look back on 2001, as well as look ahead to what I believe is a bright future, full of potential and promise.
Briefly, here are some of NCF's significant achievements in the year 2001:
- Active membership increases recorded in 2 of the last 4
months of the year
- The level of membership donations increased as a percentage of budget to 96% in the last nine months of the year as opposed to 82% in the first three months of 2002. In total we acheived member donations totalling 89% of our budget.
- We began the implementation phase of the Thin Client project
- We made substantial headway towards finalizing the Smart Capital Contribution Agreement, specifically by confirming significant in-kind contributions from some of our many partners
No. No. % Of Avg. New Budget Regist Memb Actual Budget Regist Memb. (No.) Donate Donate ($) ($) Var Donat'n ~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~ ~~~~~~~ 2001 1624 1176 906 56% $20,681 $21,600 -4% $22.82
No. % Of Avg. No. Budget Renwl Renwl Actual Budget Renwl Renwl (No.) Donate Donate ($) ($) Var Donatn ~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~ ~~~~~~~ 2001 4631 3350 3677 79% $129,828 $146,494 -11% $39.84
A new renewal letter was developed and started going out in May of this year.
System administration is handled by Andre Dalle. Volunteers like John Stewart, Ian Allen and Roy Hooper also contribute time and effort towards this most essential of tasks. Thanks also go out to CCS staff at Carleton for their support and assistance.
Modem reliability continued to be a concern, especially with the terminal servers operating on 520-9013. We worked extensively with 3com, trying to remedy the situation, but in the end 3com determined that they could not give us a definite timeframe to fix the problem. Accordingly, they have agreed to take back the equipment and refund the purchase price. Work continues on finding an alternative reliable solution to take the place of the 3com gear in order to provide members with at least 72 lines of 33.6 Kbps service.
Andre was succesful in migrating the pop server to freenet7, although we did face some unforeseen circumstances that resulted in a delay in bringing the service back up.
SPAM (unwanted advertising email) also was a major membership concern. To combat this problem we installed the latest upgrade of sendmail, and we began using the services of the relay blackhole site ordb.org. Initial indications were that the SPAM dropped off somewhat, but this is a constant battle that continues to be fought. We are continuing to work on providing a solution that guards our members against this annoying problem.
Andre did significant work with IKON Office Solutions on the implementation of the Thin Client project and will continue to work closely with them and Comgate Engineering on the project.
We had a hard disk crash on freenet10 that resulted in some downtime until Andre was able to implement a temporary solution prior to getting the disk replaced. We have seen some other hardware issues develop, specifically with freenet4. As of the writing of this report we are working on planning a new technical architecture.
Negotiations between Bell, Carleton and the NCF resulted in a 2 year renewal of the contract for the provision of the 170 Centrex lines that we currently use. No rate changes occurred.
The day-to-day running of the NCF office continues to be handled by Sheila Alder. Sheila works extensively with volunteers, without whom the NCF could not survive. Volunteering on NCF covers many areas. Volunteers working outside of the NCF Office provided training for new members at the St. Laurent Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, prepared web pages for Information Providers and "CapitalFind", and answered questions in the online Help Desk (ncf.admin). In the office volunteers cover the support lines, assist in processing donations, answering technical questions, and providing general membership support. Notably, a number of volunteers of the month were office volunteers, including Joan Line, our December VOM and Volunteer of the Year. Thanks Joan!
Research has begun on the development of a new membership database. The database conversion is being studied along with the porting of the user interface to a web format, and enabling of an e-commerce platform to accept on-line donations. Discussions have been held with a local professional services firm, as well as co-op instructors from Algonquin College. It is the goal of this project to improve the efficiency of office operations, allow members to handle their own membership changes, and provide new and current members with an easier way to make donations.
In conjunction with inMedia, a local communications firm, we began exploring ways to better communicate NCF's activities, to attract new members and inform current members.
Students in Judith Madill's Marketing for Non-Profits class at Carleton University also completed projects on the marketing of the NCF. Both groups did particularly good jobs and I was very impressed with their reports and presentations.
The NCF Picnic was held at Vincent Massey park on July 21. About 30 members attended. Thanks goes out to Marissa Bovey who was responsible for successfully organizing the picnic.
The HRDC Thin Client project finally moved into the implementation phase. In June, we contracted Rebel.com to do the implementation, but just as they were about to start work, the company went into receivership. We immediately contacted IKON Office Solutions to perform the work, and after a short negotiation period, they were signed up to begin work. Another delay then occured when IKON, as part of it's initial investigation of the project, discovered that the donation from Microsoft for the operating system software did not meet certain licensing requirements. This led to a new donation request going to Microsoft, and at the same time, a request for an upgraded donation from Citrix. Both of these finally came together in December and implementation began later that month. Additionally, AppSense Corporation, through its local reseller, MetaComm Corporation, donated security software for this project. As of the writing of this report, IKON has completed the initial implementation of the software and the next step is to proceed with initial testing with a pilot test group of NCF users. Also, Comgate Engineering has completed a large part of the required documentation.
The main task heading up the Smart Capital project was to complete the Contribution Agreement between OCRI, the Smart Capital project managers, and the NCF. Due to previous delays, the entire budget and statement of work was redone. Then, donation letters from the various partners had to be finalized. Significant progress was made towards completing this task, with the completing of the donation agreement with Microsoft. Negotiations with the City on the Extended Access proposal were not as successful, and we are examining our options on that project. As of the writing of this report, we have now finalized agreements with Corel, Tarantella, AppSense. We have reached verbal agreement with iPLanet for a donation of Web Mail software and hope to have the donation letter in hand shortly.
I think it is important that as we look ahead to 2002 and beyond, we revisit our mission statement. It reads:
"The National Capital FreeNet / Libertel de la Capitale nationale is a free, computer-based information sharing network accessible in both official languages of Canada. It links the people and organizations of this region, provides useful information, and enables an open exchange of ideas with the world. Community involvement makes FreeNet an important and accessible meeting place, and prepares people for full participation in a rapidly changing communications environment."
I believe there are 3 important points that can be made about our mission statement:
One, we enable an open exchange of ideas with the world. The power of the internet is it's ability to act as a medium for communication, to facilitate it, to encourage it, to provide "Netizens" the capability of expanding their horizons. The NCF brings the power of the Net to our members and the citizens of this community.
Two, "Community Involvement makes FreeNet an important and accessible meeting place." We are nothing without the support and participation of citizens of this community. I look at people like Graeme Beckett and Gopal Mohan who gave up their Saturday to come in and help people get their computer set up properly, to Mike Oster of Cisco and Greg Guy of Qunara who made it possible for two of his engineers, Wes Toman and Roch Charbonneau to come in and work with Andre Dalle, our system administrator, to get new modem equipment running. And Michael Mei of Alcatel, who spent several weekends helping with communication equipment. And finally, I look at all the other countless volunteers that give of their time freely so that the NCF can continue to contribute to making Ottawa a better place.
The third point I want to make from the mission statement is this: Members helping members means we are able to accept members regardless of their financial resources. We help bridge the Digital Divide by providing access to the internet. But NCF is free to use, but is not free to operate. We will, and this is absolutely crucial to our long term survival, continue to rely on our members to support us through their generous donations. We have some special projects, like the HRDC Thin Client and Industry Canada Smart Capital initiative, that, in combination with substantial corporate donations from companies like Corel, Microsoft, IKON Office Solutions, and iPlanet, will provide some short term boost. But the backbone and core of our support is from the members themselves. The members of the NCF are responsible for providing the financial resources we need to operate and thrive.
The 2002 strategy and operational plan affirms our commitment to the mission of the NCF. I invite you to view it at http://www.ncf.ca/ncf/execdir/2002/jan/2002_strategy.htm
In closing, the NCF faces significant challenges in the coming year. We must improve the reliability of the services offered to our members, we must raise the visibility of the NCF within the community, we must enable the contributions from our strong group of volunteers. As the Ottawa Citizen writes, the National Capital FreeNet was formed in the spirit of service to the community. With your support, FreeNet will continue to help make our National Capital region a great place to live.
Ian MacEachern (bi207)
National Capital FreeNet