Executive Director's Report
For the year of 2017
Thanks for being a member of National Capital FreeNet! NCF believes everyone in the region should have access to the internet. For us, this means people should be able to afford a high quality connection, understand how to use it, and feel safe online. We couldn't do this work without your support, financially and through feedback and suggestions.
As a not-for-profit, our organizational structure very intentionally places members at the top. Members then vote for the Board of Directors, who in turn hire and evaluate the Executive Director, who hires the rest of staff and oversees volunteers.
Because of this structure we always aim for maximum transparency, while respecting that some of our business is bound by non-disclosure agreements, contracts, and other types of confidential information.
Here's a rundown of what we did in 2017:
Our DSL members grew from 3035 at the beginning of the year to 3270 at the end of the year.
Because of the way we track members who are not currently subscribed to our DSL services it is harder to specify exactly the number of active members in this group at any one time. This includes those that belong to NCF for our locally-hosted email, basic webhosting, community workshops and because they support our mandate. It is more than 1000 additional members.
Annual donations from both groups were solid at $65,020.
Pricing and plans
On January 2, 2017 we officially launched our Community Access Fund program for Ottawa Community Housing tenants and by the end of the year, had more than 185 new members enrolled.
In April we announced pricing changes for all members: the biggest move was that thanks to a CRTC-mandated change in the wholesale price of capacity, we were able to make all our plans unlimited use for the same price we had been charging for 350GBs of use.
In addition, to celebrate our 25th anniversary we dropped the line installation cost from $49.95 to $25.00. And thanks to Bell incentives we were also able to drop the 10mbps plans from $32.95 to $30.95 per month and the 50mbps plan from $54.95 to $49.95 per month.
We later dropped the price of our SmartRG 505 modems to $100 + HST from $105 + HST. And we dropped the $19.95 + HST dry line installation for Community Access Fund members.
In 2017 we also started offering affordable refurbished modems and routers for $20, made possible by member donations.
Usage, capacity and network
Usage continues to grow steadily, driven by our membership growth, our decision to take our plans unlimited use, as well as the growing adoption of online video services.
In order to keep up with demand, investing in capacity to limit congestion at peak, and ensuring network resilience, we made a major investment in 2017 by buying two 10G routers and upgrading our network circuits from Bell. This took many months planning and the work was finally done in December. In the end, there were some unexpected outages, in large part because of issues with our suppliers. We appreciate everyone's patience.
Last year we were also granted NCF-specific IPv4 addresses from the American Registry of Internet Numbers (ARIN). Once deployed, in conjunction with NCF-assigned IPv6 addresses, this will also help strengthen our network.
NCF launched on February 1, 1993. But the not-for-profit corporation was officially registered on September 29, 1992 and so we mark that date as our birthday.
To celebrate, we published the book "aa000: 25 years of National Capital FreeNet" and threw a party at Ottawa City Hall. We were thrilled when more than 150 past, present and future members showed up to celebrate with us!
Thanks to all those who contributed memories and memorabilia, to Alex Parsons for his work to pull the book together from what has been random clipped newspaper articles and old notes, and to the graphic designers at Character Creative. But the most thanks are due to NCF's original founders for following through on a good idea, and to all our members over the years!
Staff and office volunteers
With the help of funding from the WiseNet project we expanded the HelpDesk, adding six new desks for staff and volunteers.
The HelpDesk had high staff turnover in staff in 2017, including Vicky Wang, Santpal Sandhu and Nick Detre. We wish them all well.
HelpDesk Analysts James Ouzas and Andrew Martey Asare both continued in their full-time roles and thanks to funding from the Canada-Ontario Job Grant, Andrew successfully completed the Masters Certificate in Business Analysis at Carleton University and James began the Certificate in Applied Management at Algonquin College.
Thanks in large part to funding from the Canada Summer Jobs program, we hired six summer students last year. On the HelpDesk: Christina Eng, Rumya Siva and Jessica Dahanayake. Co-editors of the Low Income Services Handbook: Adam Godlewski and Khadra Ali. And editor of the NCF anniversary book: Alex Parsons.
This year, as part of our commitment to being a good employer we also started covering 100 percent of staff health and dental benefits.
Grant activities and funding
In 2017 we raised $95,540 in grants, including the summer student funding and Canada-Ontario Job grants that were already mentioned.
Part of this also included continued work on the WiseNet project funded through the New Horizons for Seniors program through Employment and Social Development Canada.
We also received a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation for the "Access = Skills = Opportunities" project. We partnered with Ottawa ACORN, the low income rights group. The project increases people's digital comfort by helping them apply online for two important but under-utilized government subsidies, the Ontario Electricity Support Program and the Canada Learning Bond.
And we received a Community Investment Program grant from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). This funding went towards establishing Digital Access Day with our two partners, local tech charity CompuCorps and the Internet Society Canada Chapter. In 2017, we held a well-attended Digital Access Day kick-off in October in preparation for the all-day conference in June.