Today, the role that the National Capital FreeNet plays in our community is significantly different than when it began over twelve years ago. Our mission has extended far beyond that of a one-dimensional electronic commons.
To many of us, FreeNet has become a tool to use every day, maybe just to check the weather and news or to keep in touch with family and colleagues. Having access to the ‘web’ has become an integral element of daily life and in providing this opportunity to thousands, FreeNet has been an important catalyst in creating a strong, healthy community by building relationships, creating partnerships, and importantly bridging the digital divide by providing communications tools to everyone, regardless of means.
Changing demographics and a persistent increase in adoption rates of Internet use, combined with policy and funding changes made by governments, mean that we constantly need to find new ways to address our own sustainability. We are deeply committed to listening to our members; to our community stakeholders and to our supporters in business and government, and to making responsive and informed decisions about our course of action. Our going forward plan is based on the priority issues that we have been able to identify as being important to the long-term viability of FreeNet and to our continuing important role in the community.
Our constituency, once an amalgam of mostly affluent, predominantly young technically proficient males has become more a mirror of the increasingly cosmopolitan makeup of Ottawa. We embrace many new Canadians from countless nations among our membership and our challenge has transcended one of a need for bilingualism to a requirement for services for an increasingly multi-cultured audience. Acknowledging this varied ethnicity among our members and the continuing need to provide technology opportunities to members of our community who are economically marginalized amplifies this challenge.
My message this year is not merely an encapsulation of the year's successes and we have certainly enjoyed many of those, but rather a hint at what the future may have in store for FreeNet as we chart our path to a sustainable future. In the coming months, we are going to need to carefully examine the good things that got us where we are but at the same time, we need now to re-examine the role that we play in our community.
Internet access has moved from novelty to necessity. It has changed from what was once viewed as entertainment or a luxury item to become a needed utility and often marketed as just another commodity. Today, Internet access is needed and used by just about everyone. Ottawa, among the most 'wired' cities, boasts nearly 80% penetration of Internet users and NCF has played a key role in building this status, having introduced over 80,000 people to this online world. Most would agree that much of our success is built on a foundation of cooperation and mutual assistance. This cooperative character is where we are strong, and this is what we will have to build on.
We're going to have to look at the services we deliver too, ensuring that what we offer is relevant in today's wired world. Many of us remember the black and white, text-based environment that we started in. Just as we needed to embrace graphical browsing and modern messaging tools as the Internet developed, so too will we need to stay on top of the connectivity that we offer. Media-rich sites abound, particularly in sectors such as education, health, government and culture.
We'll need to examine our funding model as well. Our donation-based approach has served us well, but frequently has needed topping up. Sometimes we have achieved this by putting our knowledge of helping each other into service to complete government-initiated projects. These shortfalls have not really come about through our inability to cooperate and help each other, but rather more from the essential task that we perform in our community to provide our service to those who might otherwise not have this opportunity. We need to examine this role and perhaps define it more closely.
I am very
pleased to be a part of NCF. Canada’s oldest and largest community network and
I want to assure you that the National Capital FreeNet will continue to do what
matters - and that is to continue to provide modern and up-to-date communication
services that improve the well-being of our members; and make this opportunity
available to all people who live in our community.
On behalf of the Board of Directors, the staff and the hundreds of volunteers, I want to say thank you to the members; you, the thousands of people who have committed to be part of this organization by maintaining your membership and by donating generously what you can.