An Introduction to NCF (the National Capital FreeNet)


What is NCF?

National Capital FreeNet is a local not-for-profit community organization that provides internet services and helps people get online.  NCF was started in 1992 by people at Carleton University and has served tens of thousands of people in the Ottawa region.

NCF’s Mission:

“The National Capital FreeNet is a free, computer-based information sharing network.  It links the people and organizations of this region, provides useful information, and enables an open exchange of ideas with the world.  Community involvement makes FreeNet an important and accessible meeting place, and prepares people for full participation in a rapidly changing communications environment.”

Who owns NCF?

Not-for-profit NCF is owned by its thousands of members.  Anyone can become a member just by registering.  Membership is free.

Who runs NCF?

NCF’s member-owners elect a board of directors (who serve as volunteers) at an annual online meeting of owners.  The board of directors sets the general direction of NCF each year and oversees the operation of NCF.  Day-to-day operations are managed by an Executive Director.  The roles in the organization are described here.

Who pays for NCF?

NCF is supported by donations from its members and from organizations in the community.  Donations from members made up 80% of revenue in 2000.  Carleton University donates office facilities, computer room space, technical support, and much more.  Mitel Corporation donates 48 telephone lines, has donated several computers, and there are many other supporters of what NCF does for the community, including Microsoft, Corel, Alcatel, and many individuals, who have contributed in the office, as board members, helping people online, by writing software, how-to manuals, fund raising, organizing speakers, social events, computer swaps, talks at senior centers, work with school children, helping with public access sites, and much more.  NCF also works with government agencies and non-governmental organizations to help reduce “internet illiteracy”.


NCF does not sell its members to advertisers, and is serious about privacy, accountability, and fighting email spam.  NCF is owned and controlled by its members.

What is known about NCF members?

There have been several surveys of members, the most recent being February 2000.  Some information about members can be inferred from a study of their postal codes in summer 2000.  Earlier surveys of members are also available.  Membership is open to everyone worldwide, but most members are from the Ottawa region.

What does NCF do for its members and our community?

NCF provides reliable dial-up access to basic internet services, such as email and web browsing.  NCF organizes help for people new to using the internet.  NCF operates a web site that can be used by anyone in the community to host their web pages – many members and organizations use NCF’s facilities.  NCF offers email services, such as webmail and POP servers, which is popular with people even if they don’t need NCF’s dial-up service.  NCF has a full range of Usenet newsgroups, including several hundred that are open only to NCF members, which provide a medium for people to exchange ideas with people in their local community.


Click here to find out what NCF services could do for you.


As a member-owned member-controlled community organization, NCF is independent and serves only its members.  Although there are commercial alternatives, many people prefer to have their email address and web pages associated with not-for-profit independent community organization identified with the National Capital Region.


NCF acts as a “public commons” on the internet for the National Capital Region, where people can freely interact with people in their community and post their views in a personal web page or discussion groups.

How does NCF’s dial-up access compare to an ISP?

The dial-up access to the internet operated by NCF is essentially the same as what was offered by commercial Internet Service Providers (ISP) two or three years previous.  For example, today, NCF’s highest speed modems operate at 33.6K, whereas commercial ISPs now offer 56K.  By staying slightly behind the times, NCF is able to offer internet services with less expense and therefore help more people cross the “Digital Divide”.  NCF benefits from considerable help from volunteers – people helping people.


Many people start with NCF to learn about the internet and later decide they can justify paying for higher speed services offered by commercial ISPs.  Thus most ISPs believe that NCF helps their business, in that NCF helps people get online.  In fact, NCF regularly receives donations of equipment from local ISPs.


NCF's dialup is:

·        generally 33.6K baud rate

·        generally available (busy signals may be encountered occasionally, requiring a few redials to get service)

·        no connection limit, unless there is congestion, in which case, guaranteed at least 2 peak hours per day and unlimited non-peak hours

·        access to all the usual PPP-based internet services, plus special text services (‘FreePort’) not offered elsewhere

·        people to answer questions online, and (limited) help by phone


Thousands of people find NCF’s 33.6K modems quite adequate for their everyday email and web browsing.  For the occasional large download that would benefit from a 56K connection, it’s always possible to also use ‘free’ advertising-based services such as that offered by Canada Post.

How can you get involved?

You can become a member simply by registering.  For assistance getting started, (do what??? More detail here).  Information is available at any Ottawa region public library branch.

How can you help?

You can help by getting online, helping others get online, telling other people about NCF, and by donating or volunteering so that NCF can operate its services and outreach.


You can help by creating a personal or organizational web page that others in your community could use.  It’s easy!  Other NCF members are willing to help people get started.


If you are one of those people not content with just using a service or tool and want to get “under the hood”, if you’ve got software development skills and ideas for services that people might like, NCF is a cyberspace platform just waiting for you.  NCF’s full-time System Administrator coordinates the activities of many technically-oriented supporters and experimenters.  It’s a live ‘production’ environment serving many thousands of people – if you’ve got what it takes, you are welcome and encouraged to try things that would benefit the community.

Ottawa’s best-kept secret?

NCF is thought by some to be one of Ottawa’s “best-kept secrets”.  NCF relies largely on “word of mouth”.

How many members can NCF handle?

NCF has some fixed costs regardless of the number of members.  Donations from members support NCF, so the cost per member is lower if there are more members.  On the other hand, too many members puts a strain on resources.  The ideal number of members for NCF is about 12,000 to 20,000.


Today there are only about 7,000 members.   NCF needs more members, to keep costs per member low and to continue its operation.  Please tell people about NCF.

Get online!

Get online and get involved in all that the internet has to offer!  Web browsing, email, and much more – all available by connecting to the internet.  Learn how at NCF.

Information is available at any Ottawa public library branch, and online at


2000 December