I am pleased to present our Annual Report for the year ended 31 December 2020.
In previous years, I have begun by extending my appreciation, on behalf of the Board of Directors, to all our staff and volunteers for their dedication and commitment. That is especially true this past year, when the office remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as a front-line service, pivoting to a combination of remote work and working in-office with a new range of safety protocols.
During this time our Helpdesk ticket volume went up significantly and we had considerable staff turnover, which meant people had to train and learn in a new way and manage a lot of competing pressures. I am so impressed by how the team made this work.
In order to keep NCF sustainable we found it necessary to raise prices for all members in April 2020, the first such change since 2017 and believe me, it was a difficult decision. Unfortunately, our cost pressures continued to increase throughout the rest of the year, including an almost overnight 30% jump in usage. As part of our commitment to providing a high-quality and resilient service, we were able to increase our capacity to keep up with growing member usage without scrambling for upgrades or affecting members.
We also faced decreasing supplier incentives, and rising prices for almost everything else. Given that we had a deficit of more than $120,000 in 2019, I am pleased to report a small surplus by the end of 2020, including member donations and grants. This lays the foundation for NCF continuing its work into the future.
In addition to the pandemic, this year brought new social challenges. As part of the digital equity work we have always done, staff developed statements on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Anti-Racism; and Reconciliation. The Board approved all three statements and is working with staff to develop related policies that can tangibly guide our equity work.
This past year also brought the long-awaited launch of our new website, which was last designed in 2003. Thanks to System Developer Dylan Ferris and former Service Development Manager Will Robson for stickhandling this work with the team at Lift Interactive. We believe it effectively communicates what NCF does and how we’re different.
We also started the work to pilot cable internet services, especially important when members need more speed to accommodate people working and doing school from home. Thanks to Operations and Development Manager Nathan Medema who jumped into this work when he started in June of 2020. We’re thrilled to report that we will be offering this service soon, based on the results of our beta test.
In 2020 we continued to advocate for affordability amid ongoing regulatory uncertainty, while also looking at alternatives ways to deliver high quality connectivity to those that need it most. We’d like to thank the United Way of East Ontario and our partner Social Planning Council for their support of our Community Mesh Feasibility Study, done by long-time NCF staffer Andrew Martey Asare. The report will be released soon.
Heading into 2021 we are taking stock of lessons learned during the pandemic, continuing to advocate for change under sometimes tough conditions, and looking to grow our services and the number of members who can benefit from all we offer.
If you have ideas to help make NCF stronger, please feel free to email me at email@example.com
Finally, on behalf of the Board of Directors, the staff, the many volunteers and the thousands of people in Ottawa who make up the National Capital FreeNet community, I want to say thank you for your continuing commitment, your generous contributions and most of all, your ongoing participation. It always makes a difference, but especially so this past year.