WHEREAS the purpose of the National Capital FreeNet is to benefit the people of the National Capital region
BE IT RESOLVED that attention be given to preserving and enhancing the regional nature and ownership of the National Capital FreeNet.
Most of NCF's current members live within the National Capital region (western Quebec and eastern Ontario). That's because NCF's most popular service since 1992 has been its dial-up modem lines, which are most useful only to people in the local calling areas. NCF's current "online community software" is text-based, which doesn't attract many of today's web-based global internet users.
However, NCF may soon offer web-based services that are potentially attractive to anyone anywhere on the global internet. For example, NCF may soon offer web-based online community, webmail, and 'internet desktop' (desktop application servers). Anyone on the planet might like to have a webmail account at NCF, just as people from all over the planet get webmail accounts from Yahoo -- the internet makes distance irrelevant.
NCF's mission statement says that NCF is for people of the national capital region, but should that be changed? Should NCF expand it's focus to serve the global internet? Maybe NCF could become as popular as Yahoo!
On the other hand, here are some reasons to remain focused on the National Capital region:
Many NCF members like the local community feel of NCF. In some surveys of NCF members, some people a long way from Canada give the impression of being attracted to NCF because it has an "Ottawa" feel ('exotic' to them). If NCF were to lose that feel by becoming global, those remote members probably won't be attracted.
There are already global service providers (such as Yahoo, MSN, AOL) but NCF is unique in the national capital region. If NCF were to go global, the internet would lose the unique National Capital site and gain another global site.
Many people enjoy that the people they meet on NCF live within their community, and thus can be met 'in real life' as well. (Many NCF members live in areas of Ottawa with a high percentage of singles.)
NCF's donation model is rare. Many cities have tried to set up FreeNets such as NCF, but most have failed. NCF is the only known 'FreeNet' that is able to exist without charging a mandatory membership fee (NCF asks for, but does not require, a donation). There is something special about NCF, and it is probably related to people of the national capital region, NCF's sponsors and supporters, and how NCF has been operated. Going global might require a different funding model (eg., fees or advertising).
NCF's Executive Director believes strongly that many of NCF's institutional and corporate sponsors support NCF with in-kind (non-cash) donations solely because it has many local members, and would not support NCF (at least not in the same way) if NCF were serving a global membership. It is thought that it would be much more difficult to get sponsorship for services targeting the global internet. Thus a policy that strengthens the local nature of NCF may help NCF get and retain sponsors. Without such sponsorship, it is doubtful that NCF could continue with its current donation-based policy.
Cash NCF requirements are met mostly by donations from members. About one-half of the members donate, subsidizing the use of other half and NCF's outreach programs. Such altruism is usually stronger within a community than globally. If NCF becomes global, it is likely that people will less willing to subsidize others (will someone in Egypt, China, Germany, Australia be interested in subsidizing someone in Ottawa, or vice versa? Would they donate as much as an Ottawa resident might to subsidize someone else in their own community, Ottawa?). Many members respond positively to "NCF helps make Ottawa a better place to live".Thus 'going global' would likely raise the cost per member of NCF (due to lost sponsorship and possibly less generous donations).
For reasons such as these, NCF is best to preserve and enhance its unique regional focus -- a focus on the national capital region (eastern Ontario and western Quebec).
Existing members ought not be affected, no matter where they live. However, NCF ought to focus on *new* members from the local region, to maintain (and strengthen) a local feel and membership base -- and to keep sponsors, so that NCF can continue with its donation model.
Ultimately, NCF exists to serve its members, who, by its bylaws, are its owners. Thus to maintain a regional focus, NCF must maintain a regional membership base.
This motion calls for NCF to give attention to measures to retain local ownership (membership), re-affirming:
NCF 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."
Policy implementation is the domain of staff, but ideas are always useful from anyone and help to supplement sometimes abstract policy discussions. Here are some ideas:
The definition of "Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec" is purposely vague and inclusive. However, probably more definition is required. Maybe postal codes could be used. Generally, the intent would be to include any towns normally considered to be part of the 'national capital region' or otherwise normally considered as being a 'satellite' of the Ottawa-Gatineau urban area (thus Kingston, Perth, or Maniwaki, but not Montreal or Toronto).
A phrase should be added to the agreement for new members saying that *new* NCF membership is limited to people living in the national capital region (Eastern Ontario or Western Quebec), and asking the applicant to certify that they qualify (and thus if they are later found to not qualify, their membership could be revoked, if necessary).
Something needs to be implemented to accommodate users (if not members) living outside the region. There are two main concerns: 1) that too many people from outside the region would cause NCF to lose its local characteristics; and 2) that people from outside the region must not be a drain on NCF funding. The latter can be addressed by asking people not living in the region to donate a minimum amount. This could eliminate the problem of NCF members potentially subsidizing global users.
(This parallels the approach widely used by public libraries: Use of the Ottawa Public library is free for residents but non-residents must pay a nominal annual usage fee)
Membership rights could be disconnected from usage rights. This would give NCF the flexibility to offer membership (with voting) to local residents, and 'usage rights' (without voting) to people outside the region.
Members must share NCF's resources. NCF ought to establish clear guidelines on what consistitutes reasonable usage of resources (eg., web page size, page hits, modem usage, etc). It would seem reasonable that people wishing to use an abnormally large amount of communal resources ought to compensate the community for that. Enforcement need not be draconian but systems ought to ensure fair sharing of resources.
Approaching this issue pro-actively before it is a problem is far easier than waiting until it becomes an obvious problem.