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 +Telecommunities Canada Conference
 +=================================
 +
 +### August 16-20, 1996 Edmonton, Alberta
 +
 +\
 + By Steve Cisler, Network Outreach, Apple Computer, Inc.\
 +
 +Copyright Steve Cisler. This report may reside on non-profit,
 +educational,​ and hobbyist BBSes, ftp servers, web sites, listservs, and
 +(if any are left out there) gopher servers. For all other uses, please
 +contact the author <​sac@apple.com>​ . Notable URLs are at the end of the
 +document.
 +
 + The Canadian community networking conference in 1993 had been an
 +inspiration for the first conference I planned (Ties That Bind, 1994),
 +so I was glad to finally attend their 1996 annual meeting this year and
 +spend three rewarding days in Edmonton, Alberta.\
 +\
 + ​Besides being curious about the activities taking place in Canada (both
 +technical, political, and social), I was worried about attempts to form
 +an International Association of Community Networking which began this
 +year in online fora as well as meetings in Virginia and Taos, New
 +Mexico. Some money had been collected, and a core organizing team has
 +been chosen in Taos after a long meeting, but no strong consensus had
 +been reached once we broke up and went back to our jobs and communities,​
 +even though all of us are fairly adept at expressing our views in
 +electronic mail.\
 +\
 + I felt that the Canadians might offer some advice and examples for IACN
 +to proceed beyond the embryonic stage it was in as of May 1996. So I
 +went to listen and learn and not, for once, to present my own views.
 +
 +### Friday night: opening session
 +
 +The host this year was the Edmonton FreeNet, and they did a good job,
 +though they never received my registration or followup email about it.
 +Their main hard drive failed just as the conference was starting, so
 +they had to devote a lot of time and resources to deal with a big crisis
 +as well as the conference. My plane arrived late, and I registered on
 +the spot, dropped my bags in the college gymnasium where the opening
 +session was being held and took my seat in the audience of about 75 to
 +hear Garth Graham, TC board of directors, go into a lengthy discussion
 +of the place of community in a knowledge society.\
 +\
 + From his postings and from talking with him, it's clear he is one of
 +the main theorists about Canadian community networking. He questioned
 +what happens when you mix the real and virtual communities,​ and he
 +stressed the need for the most participation possible. He showed a
 +strong faith in self-organizing systems and the efficacy of grass roots
 +democracy (not everyone agreed, as will be evident later in this
 +report).\
 +\
 + Other speakers included Peter de Jager, an expert on technological
 +change, and Jon Gerrard, Sec. of State for Science, Research, and
 +Development,​ and for Western Economic Diversification.\
 + The attendees included speakers, registrants,​ and volunteers. The first
 +two categories totaled about 80 people including a few Americans and, I
 +believe, someone from Korea. Most of the others worked in existing
 +FreeNets or community networks. Many of the former have changed their
 +name because of trademark issues, but some have done so because of the
 +negative connotation of the word "​free"​ when a fee was being charged to
 +many users.\
 +\
 + TC has been working on an agreement with the new NPTN for the use of
 +"​Free-Net"​ again. There were also people from the Community Access
 +Program, an Industry Canada project, to provide matching funds to small
 +communities around the country for the establishment of public access
 +sites. 359 were funded this year, and more will be chosen by regional
 +teams after an October 1996 filing date. The TC board sees these CAP
 +sites as potential community networks, and the attendees I spoke with
 +from Rocky Mountain House, AB, and Lumby, BC, were enthusiastic and even
 +more inspired after the conference was ending. Jody Konynenbelt of Rocky
 +CIA, said their grant money would be running out, but she hoped to train
 +some volunteers before she went back to cutting horses on a ranch to
 +earn some money. I wish there were easy ways for small communities to
 +continue to support smooth-running projects such as this. As everywhere
 +else the problem of continuing projects without the continuous infusion
 +of grant money is serious.
 +
 +### Saturday plenary session
 +
 +The Saturday plenary session featured Doug Schuler present "How to kill
 +community networks"​ which was slightly modified from the talk he did in
 +Taos. The first part of the annual general meeting for TC took place at
 +this time. Community networks are voting members of TC, not individuals.
 +TC has no paid staff but hopes to later this year. They received some
 +funds from Industry Canada, but it was clear from the continuing
 +comments and discussion that the relationship between TC and Industry
 +Canada was not all that it could be.\
 +\
 + ​Industry Canada people I met at the Internet Society in Montreal said
 +they probably would not attend because they had been beaten on pretty
 +badly. A TC representative said part of it was because Industry Canada
 +reps had come to last year's conference as if they owned it, and yet had
 +just donated \$5000. The 1996 conference saw both sides being more
 +diplomatic and conciliatory toward each other. I think the TC people
 +wanted the government people to refer newcomers to them and to recognize
 +the experience they were acquiring. It also seemed that cooperation
 +between the two was better in some regions than in others, and this
 +might be due to personalities and not policy.\
 +\
 + The conference was divided into four tracks: get the spirit going; keep
 +the spirit growing; leading the spirit; and spirit of technology. I
 +jumped around and attended sessions in all but the technology track.
 +
 +#### Chebutco software for Unix machines
 +
 +David Trueman of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, discussed the
 +CSuite community network software for Unix machines. It's running on 12
 +Canadian community networks and won a Canadian Internet award in 1995. I
 +hope some of the features Ken Klingenstein showed at Taos from the
 +Boulder Community Network system can be integrated into CSuite. I have
 +urged both systems to contact the other for some cross pollination.
 +
 +#### Defining the community network board of directors
 +
 +Carol Humphries of Learning Link in Edmonton provides office space as
 +in-kind support for the local FreeNet. She is also chairman of the
 +board, and she ran a good session on her view of the way boards should
 +be set up. Her board is a governing board, and they hire an executive
 +director who hires the rest of the staff. They make policy; they don't
 +count paper clips and deal with registrations. The founding sponsors
 +include a mix of public (libraries) and private organizations
 +(IBM-Canada,​ Learning Link, Software Alberta Society, Edmonton
 +Telephones, Edmonton Journal and they are entitled to sit on the board.
 +The board does not post minutes or encourage members to attend the board
 +meetings.\
 +\
 + ​Recently they have begun a "​bulletin board" for interaction between
 +members and the board, but it seems the digital tools they are promoting
 +with Edmonton FreeNet, with the exception of email, are not really being
 +used by the board itself to facilitate better communications.
 +Nevertheless,​ her presentation pointed out how many governance issues
 +any organization has to deal with, especially one that usually is
 +techie-driven at first, but needs to change as the organization
 +membership grows.\
 +\
 + Ms. Humphries clearly stated the limits of her interest in
 +participatory democracy several times during the presentation. Others in
 +the audience thought this would isolate the board from the digital
 +masses, but she said that the board should probably perpetuate itself by
 +vetting candidates for new board positions, yet she did see a pendulum
 +swing from more control (which she espoused) to one that was more open.
 +Jon Hall of NTNet Society in Yellowknife,​ Northwest Territories (which
 +has 60,000 people in an area 1/3 the size of Canada!) talked about the
 +problems of running a meeting where off-the-wall candidates or positions
 +were suggested by members from the floor. Garth Graham said that
 +National Capital FreeNet in Ottawa had open elections where each account
 +holder could vote (or change her vote) over a two week period. Even with
 +the ease of electronic voting, only 2000 members vote from a membership
 +of 57,000.\
 +\
 + I went into some detail because this is the kind of topic not covered
 +in any American community networking conference, and because the level
 +of discussion was such a major part of the session. Having 90 minutes
 +for each one allowed most speakers to have their say and still entertain
 +a substantive exchange with the audiences. This was to be the way most
 +of the other sessions were as well.
 +
 +#### Statistics
 +
 +Ian Allen of National Capital FreeNet in Ottawa detailed the kinds of
 +information a system operator can get from monitoring the software and
 +charting the results. He charts unique IDs using the system per week,
 +Usenet traffic for local groups and even the number of articles posted
 +in different groups. There was a long discussion of what these stats
 +meant, and how you needed to weigh different ones before coming to any
 +simple conclusion about user needs or trends.\
 +\
 + Shawn Henry also had a good session on different sort of stats: from a
 +survey of Calgary FreeNet users. Henry is with the Canada West
 +Foundation and is writing up a report on what they found from their
 +survey. Since there have been inquiries from American community networks
 +about users stats, contact him about the report and where it will be
 +published. \<​henry@freenet.calgary.ab.ca. One interesting stat that I
 +report without comment: 99.5% of the users thought Internet access was a
 +right!
 +
 +#### Time Out for Fun
 +
 +The Edmonton organizing committee also allowed time to visit the surreal
 +mall that houses hundreds of shops, an ice rink, a Spanish Galleon
 +(sponsored by Kodak), a nine acre water park with bungee jumping,
 +treacherous slides to take years off your life--or push you over the
 +edge, and a big wave machine. I had been swimming in Santa Cruz,
 +California, two weeks before, and it was quite weird to be in the
 +northern Canadian plains body surfing along with a thousand other
 +people. At the same time a theater/​street fair event was underway (the
 +Fringe), so we had two very good breaks from all the network related
 +sessions.
 +
 +#### Edmonton Public Access
 +
 +After the Edmonton FreeNet started up again with substitute hard drives,
 +I visited a local public access site to try it out. Since I'm a
 +librarian by training, I visited the main library in downtown Edmonton.
 +At the cluster of terminals and PCs they had posted a sign about the
 +FreeNet problems, but I was able to log in as '​guest'​ on their machine.
 +The first page displayed in lynx was a registration page, and I was
 +unable to view anything else. The elderly woman at the help desk was
 +friendly and supportive but she said she was not a member of FreeNet and
 +did not own a computer. She tried to log in using a special password.
 +When she could not get past the registration screen, she consulted a
 +younger helper. I said I'd contact the system administrator who was at
 +the conference.\
 +\
 + When I logged on again a couple of days later, it was fixed. However,
 +it is clear that computers are still hard to use, and not everyone can
 +easily help people solve problems with an interface or system error.
 +This makes the user experience a negative one, and the support staff
 +gets frustrated with something outside of its control. Once these
 +barriers are surmounted, more people will enjoy or at least make use of
 +our systems. In Edmonton there are over 11,000 users in a metro
 +population of 850,000. It is clear that not everyone is going to use our
 +community networks, but what will the magic application be to attract
 +more than one or two percent of the population to our sites?
 +
 +#### Censorship
 +
 +Alvin Schrader of the U. of Alberta School of Library and Information
 +Studies spoke about censorship on the Internet, from the perspective of
 +a librarian who has studied this ever popular pastime in libraries of
 +all sorts. There was a very good discussion about how to set limits.
 +Generally libraries have a greater tolerance for controversial materials
 +than do other institutions (government,​ industry, law enforcement,​
 +schools) and I wondered if any Canadian libraries felt they had to
 +compromise when they partnered with others to form a community network.
 +Neither Schrader nor Penelope McKee (head of Edmonton Public Library and
 +a member of the board) knew of any such compromise. Schrader recommended
 +getting a board approved mission statement and having it reviewed
 +regularly. Have a complaint policy and procedure. Edmonton PL has a
 +strong freedom of expression statement. There should be a national
 +statement for handling due process for complaints, and support for
 +network officials who are being threatened should be provided (as it is
 +for librarians in the U.S.). Dr. S.M Padsha of Edmonton FreeNet said
 +setting a policy on controversial material has been problematic. A small
 +number of users want some "​special"​ Usenet groups, and nobody knows how
 +to decide this: not the users, the board, nor the staff. Nobody had an
 +answer for him at the session, but having a strong mission and goals
 +statement can help. Parts of Edmonton'​s statement are ambiguous (you
 +can't put up material that is \_objectionable\_) and they are searching
 +for a way to resolve this.
 +
 +#### The Canadian Government'​s message
 +
 +Andrew Siman, director of communications development in the Department
 +of Industry, gave a talk on insights about the "​information highway"​ a
 +term still quite popular in Canadian government and industry. He hopes
 +to extend the CAP program and fund 100 community networks for \$60K over
 +three years (for a total of \$6 million), establish a Canadian studies
 +institute to assess the social impact of the IH, and hold regular
 +conferences on public information and networking issues. He compared the
 +funding of the CAP program with that of CANARIE, the public/​private
 +consortium that has received over \$100 million in federal funds. At the
 +end of this report you can find a URL for the most recent report on the
 +IH (May 1996) that was being handed out by Industry Canada. Siman'​s talk
 +seemed to be a very conciliatory overture to the TC membership, but he
 +could not distribute the talk until it was translated into French.\
 +\
 + ​Unlike the Internet Society conference in Montreal in June, there
 +seemed to be no tension over Quebec and Canada; French and English. The
 +whole conference was in English. However, there seemed to be just one
 +Quebecois present, and I wished I had had time to talk with him about
 +these issues as they are manifested in his new system in Montreal that
 +came online earlier this summer.
 +
 +### The Next TC conference
 +
 +There were many other sessions I did not attend, but check the TC 96 web
 +pages for more info on the speakers and sessions. The next conference
 +will be in Halifax, Nova Scotia 15-18, 1996, sponsored by Chebutco
 +Community Net \<​http://​chebutco.as.ca/​TC97\>​ The theme is partnerships,​
 +and the organizing board is interested in ideas for keynote speakers and
 +presenters.\
 +\
 + My quick impression of the Canadian community networks is that they
 +have more features in common with each other than American ones do, but
 +each is run differently. The subject matter for the conference had less
 +evangelizing and cheerleading than we had at our meetings. This
 +indicates a practicality and perhaps more advanced stage of development
 +than the American scene as a whole. However, many are struggling with
 +ways of supporting themselves in the wake of ISPs growth, grants running
 +out, and a growing mass of users who want new services and static fees.
 +One Freenet vice president said he wished his group had paid more
 +attention to content and less to phone lines. Many still place more
 +emphasis on basic dialup access to serve those with older or slower
 +machines than they do on improving services for people with more capable
 +equipment.\
 +\
 + Many community systems do not want to compete with ISPs, and if the
 +role of the Freenet is to serve mainly the underserved,​ they will have
 +to secure funding from sources other than users who can afford to pay
 +very little if anything. Some of the Calgary stats showed a sizable
 +portion of middle and upper-middle income people using the system when
 +they could afford to pay quite a bit more for Internet service. I worry
 +that many of the community net members are like Price Club or Costco
 +customers: they will stick with the service as long as it's free or
 +cheap, and even a good cadre of volunteers (as most Canadian systems
 +seem to have) will not keep such a system financially solvent in the
 +medium or long run. This is not so different from many public libraries
 +where most of the users are well-educated and middle class but who draw
 +a great deal of value out of proportion to the taxes they pay. The
 +FreeNet does not draw on the whole tax base, as a library does, and that
 +makes their support less reliable. I think that the skillful use of
 +statistics to show the way CNs are serving the populace and are helping
 +to further the government goals of equitable access may be one of the
 +best ways to show the impact these systems are having in many
 +communities. I'd recommend deciding on a measure of stats taken from log
 +files and surveys that are common to each system and coming up with a
 +picture of CN activity by province and nationally.
 +
 +### URLs of note:
 +
 +-   ​Telecommunities Canada Conference 1996:
 +    <​http://​news.sas.ab.ca/​tc96/>​
 +-   Neil Guy's thesis on community networks:
 +    [www.tela.bc.ca/​tela/​ma-thesis/​](http://​www.tela.bc.ca/​tela/​ma-thesis/​)
 +    or
 +    [http://​www.vcn.bc.ca/​people/​nkg/​ma-thesis/​](http://​www.vcn.bc.ca/​people/​nkg/​ma-thesis/​)
 +    (both links are quite slow)
 +-   Doug Schuler'​s "How to kill community networks"​ :
 +    <​http://​www.laplaza.org/​cn/​local/​schuler>​
 +-   ​Community Access Program: <​http://​cnet.unb.ca/>​
 +-   ​Lumby,​ BC, Community Access: <​http://​www.monashee.com/​index>​
 +-   ​Building the Information Society: Moving Canada into the 21st
 +    Century
 +-   ​info.ic.gc.ca/​info-highway/​society/​toc\_e
 +-   ​Articles on CSuite, community network software:
 +    [http://​www.innovations.org/​ins/​ccn](http://​www.innovations.org/​ins/​ccn)
 +    <​http://​www.chebucto.ns.ca/​Chebucto/​chebucto_suite>​
  
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