It is a great privilege to serve as President of the National Capital FreeNet and on behalf of my colleagues on the Board, I’d like to thank all of you for continuing to show your support through your comments and suggestions, your direct participation as a volunteer, your continuing donations and most Importantly, for your membership in this unique online community.
Two of the greatest strengths of NCF are its technical excellence and the energy of its diverse membership. Over the last several years, we can boast about a service that has been not only robust and feature-rich, but near “bullet-proof” when you consider the few times we’ve had technical issues. We can thank our terrific staff and volunteers under the leadership of John Selwyn, our Executive Director for this.
Having spent considerable time and attention on reliability and usefulness of our service, in the last year, we have turned our attention back to basics. Making sure that we are providing useful, relevant access to technology for our members and further, making sure that everyone who wants to can use the service.
Lots happened at NCF in 2005, but I’d like to single out two different, but equally important changes in how we operate, that in my opinion, act as beacons, pointing the way for our continuing sustainability.
The first big change was our beginning to offer high-speed DSL services. We wanted to make sure that the services that we provide are relevant in the rapidly changing communications environment that we find ourselves in. It is interesting to note that Statistics Canada reported last year that Ottawa ranked first among 20 Canadian cities for Internet use in the home –reporting that 78.9 percent of households in Ottawa have at least one regular Internet user. I’ve often speculated about the fact the Canadian cities with highest Internet use are the same cities where community networks like NCF have been around the longest and continue to thrive. In Ottawa today, more than 60% of Internet users are using some form of high-speed service and we at FreeNet needed to pace, if not lead this trend. To accomplish this, we began to provide a 3-meg DSL service in a manner that is true to our “co-op like” mandate. We’ve made sure that the price is low, thus ensuring that membership in NCF continues to be valuable. Beyond that, we’ve made sure that the service is offered with a lot more flexibility for things like bit-caps, sharing and help, to make sure that NCF clearly stands apart from commercial services.
The other important arrival at NCF in 2005 was a revamp of the way we ask you to contribute with the formation of the Members-helping-members Assistance Fund and the NCF Improvements Fund.
We’ve always helped people get online and to access up-to-date information and communication technology. Sometimes that help was through instruction or simply showing the way and sometimes it’s been through offering services that weren’t readily available. Sometimes however, we’ve helped out when people have not otherwise had the means to access this technology, but it wasn’t always clear who pays. The cost of NCF services is covered by contributions from members. This includes the cost of operating modems, telephone lines, email, spam filtering, office operation, staff costs, and more. The NCF Members-helping-members Assistance Fund provides NCF dial-up Internet access and services to members who would not otherwise be able to have Internet at home. The NCF Improvements Fund helps keep NCF up to date and running well.
The leadership shown by those of you that chose to make a special donation when renewing your account since these changes were made is a clear indication that NCF will continue as a viable organization with services available to everyone.
However, we still have lots of room to grow and to improve. We’re at about 9,000 members today, and balancing the budget is still a task that stretches resources mighty thin. What we need is more members and that’s where you come in. I know you enjoy being a member of NCF and I know that you rely on the service as part of your life. I started this note by referring to the energy of its diverse membership. You can help to make sure that this continues. Please be an “NCF evangelist.” Tell people about what we do and the benefits of being part of NCF and encourage them to join.