I am happy to report that for the second year in a row the National Capital FreeNet made significant technical and organizational progress. I am particularly pleased with the quality of support that is being offered by the office volunteers. Volunteers are having fun and learning valuable skills while helping out their neighbours.
NCF membership and office systems continue to perform well. The personal start page and spam filter are widely adopted and there is a continual rise in postings to NCF's discussion groups. These stability of these systems is a real credit to the development team.
Access to the internet through the NCF took a big step forward in 2005 with the introduction of a high speed service (DSL). The NCF team has worked hard to master all of the ins and outs of supporting this advanced technology and hundreds of members are now enjoying 3 Mbps service to their home. This technology is well suited to the ideals of the NCF in that it is particularly well suited to sharing -- most commercial service providers prohibit the sharing of access and as a result this provides the NCF with an opportunity to differentiate our service at the same time as we extend high quality services to local residents.
The office functions were also improved 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.
The NCF received positive media coverage during 2005 with articles in the Ottawa Citizen and Monitor Magazine. The NCF has also started distributing posters and book marks to the public libraries and advertising in Monitor Magazine.
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 has been publicizing the NCF as part of their revitalized public internet access. Starting last spring, local residents have been able to validate their accounts at the information desk at any OPL location. Together these partnerships are helping to further enhance NCF's credibility as an alternative internet supplier for much of the population of the Nation's capital.
In spite of all of the improvements, the NCF still faces significant challenges. The NCF needs to continue to upgrade its technical infrastructure. Many of the NCF servers are nearing the end of the planned lifespans and in the years ahead will need to be repaired or replaced. Volunteers are needed to help extend the current support team and finally the biggest challenge, to get the word out that the NCF is a great alternative to commercial internet providers.
Financially 2005 was also a challenge for the NCF in that there were no outside contracts or government grants to help offset operating costs. Telecom costs were level for the year, salaries were down (due to a number of individuals moving from salaried to volunteer status), technical service charges (backups etc.) and insurance charges increased dramatically. The NCF membership came through with sufficient donations to almost cover the expenses for the year. Although we had to cover the shortfall by reducing our small reserve, I was pleased to see that more members are viewing the NCF like a cooperative and attempting to cover their service costs and more. This increase in the number of members donating and the average size of the donations has resulted in the funding necessary to sustain the service into the future.
We were greatly saddened by Sandy Campbell passing away last summer. Sandy was a long-time friend of NCF and a member of the Board of Directors. Sandy's feisty spirit, wisdom, and clear values are missed.
National Capital FreeNet