The National Capital FreeNet made significant technical and organizational progress during 2004. Membership is up, volunteer effort is up, donations are up and NCF is providing a higher quality of service than ever before.
During the year NCF completed the
projects sponsored by HRDC and Smart Capital resulting in some
very significant improvements to the NCF infrastructure and a
number of new applications for the membership.
The extended access project created
a pool of 96 lines that is available during periods of peak
member demand (evenings, weekends and holidays). NCF's total
dial up capacity increased by 34% to a
peak of 440 lines.
Three new functions were added to the members start page:
The office functions were also incrementally improved in 2004 with the addition of a trouble ticket management system and an improved office environment. Together these functions have helped the NCF's volunteers to improve the quality and timeliness of their support to members.
I am also pleased to report on the renewal of two early NCF partnerships, one with the City of Ottawa and the other with the Ottawa Public Library. The City supports the NCF by allowing it to use its phone lines after hours and weekends to extend our dial up services. The Ottawa Public Library is starting to publicize the NCF as part of their revitalized public internet access. Starting this spring, local residents will be able to validate their accounts at the information desk at any OPL location.
In spite of all of the technical improvements, the NCF still faces significant marketing and financial challenges. With the completion of the externally funded projects, it now falls on the membership to fund all aspects of the NCF's operations. Although member donations were up on the previous year, our monthly donations were shy of expectations. As a result, expenses exceeded revenues resulting in a drawing down of NCF's cash reserves.
To ensure that the NCF remains financially viable, we reviewed the renewal and donation process. In 2004 we embarked on a program of educating the membership as to the need to contribute to the operations of the NCF, either through volunteer effort or through donations. The general expectation is that those that can afford to contribute should contribute. We also tried to make the guidance more fair by tailoring the renewal letters with respect to the services being used. I am pleased to say that this has resulted in jump in both the number of volunteers at the NCF and in the percentage of members that are contributing financially. Still our work is not yet done as we must encourage more local residents to take advantage of the NCF's services. In the NCF, local residents have a community based internet provider that offers the same great services as other providers but without the commercialization.
2004 was an important year for the NCF, I am hopeful that 2005 will be the year that the NCF comes to be seen by local residents as a true alternative to commercial internet providers while staying true to its roots of helping get all residents connected.