Industry Canada Free-Net Sustainability Study
Free-Net Strategic and Marketing Plan

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Prepared for: Victoria Free-Net Association
Prepared by:Teleconsult Limited, Vancouver, B.C. (604) 684-1144
Funded by: Industry Canada
Date Published: April 28, 1994
Comments to: freenet@teleconsult.com

 

Table of Contents

| Executive Summary | Strategic and Marketing Plan | Evolution of Free-Nets | Key Challenges | Vision |
| Values Framework | Free-Net Definition | Free-Net Business Model | Outcome Management Framework | Marketing Plan |

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

This strategic and marketing plan, funded by Industry Canada, represents the first step in the evolution of Free-Nets from a grassroots movement into a ubiquitous community service offering dovetailing with the Canadian Information Highway initiative. The strategic plan has been compiled from a careful consideration of Free-Net values, experiences, and stakeholder interviews coupled with our understanding of technology trends and emerging telecommunication opportunities.

This plan outlines a vision for the preferred future for Free-Nets. It distinguishes between the role of the community Free-Nets while recognizing the need for a strategic perspective with a regional mandate. The plan is intended to shift the role for Free-Nets from an ad hoc provider of services, totally dependent upon goodwill, to one of being an integral part of Canada's future communication infrastructure the Information Highway.

To this end, this plan proposes Community Free-Nets, a multi-faceted initiative that exploits the potential of community sponsored hubs to link all citizens to the Information Highway. The Community Free-Nets initiative aims to develop the following:

The Community Free-Nets initiative is a key building block in achieving the stated goal of the Information Highway:

Our goal is to build the highest quality, lowest cost information network in the world in order to give all Canadians access to the employment, educational, investment, entertainment, health care and wealth creating opportunities of the Information Age.

Community Free-Nets provides the last mile that allows all Canadians access to the Information Highway.

This strategic and marketing plan is intended to serve as a communications tool for further consultations with key stakeholders as well as being a draft road map for the implementation of Community Free-Nets. Proposed changes in positioning of commercial and community services as well as funding options can be tested against stakeholder expectations and revised accordingly. To this end, this strategic plan and marketing outlines the direction for Free-Nets, its scope of business services and funding models, and a strategy for implementation.

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STRATEGIC AND MARKETING PLAN

Today, Free-Nets are loosely organized, community-based, volunteer managed electronic network services. They provide local and global information sharing and discussion at no charge to the Free-Net user or patron. Free-Nets are intended to be community discussion group services which provide access to public information and public access into the Internet. They follow a model developed by Tom Grundner documented in his Blue Book:

A Free-Net can be loosely defined as a grassroots volunteer organization who recognizes the need for information services in a community. The organization raises capital to acquire a computer system and operation funds for telephone access lines and an Internet connection. The volunteers then negotiate access to sources of information that are of interest to the community while supporting use of the system by the community. In concert, the volunteers must continue to raise operational funding and constantly struggle to cope with the incremental demand for new services.

Community Free-Nets view themselves as local public services operating under a model similar to public libraries on public broadcasting systems. The "Free-Net's Institution" per se is supported through public funding, corporate grants and volunteer efforts. This community independence as well as the public service model, are strongly held beliefs of the Free-Net organization.

Free-Nets are therefore self regulating in regards to the range of service provision, as a result of the channel access limitations, and this is where the community must make its own definition of the range of services to be provided.

The metaphor of comparison with public libraries is that libraries do not offer micro- market defined, competitively positioned, user specific, value-added services to its clients, but instead offer a broad range of services that the general public uses on an as-needed basis. As users become more sophisticated in navigating the Internet and effectively integrating information provider services into their work, education, civic and entertainment requirements, they will use the Free-Net for community forum activities and use pay-for- service providers and network services for other purposes. Free-Net will evolve as a network services vehicle for new entrants and less-privileged users into the world of the Information Highway and will provide a training ground for both users and information services providers in defining requirements and interests.

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EVOLUTION OF FREE-NETS

The first Free-Net was established in Cleveland, Ohio in 1986. Today, Free-Nets are an international organization with 33 sites in four countries. Many communities world-wide are in the process of developing Free-Net like community access points to electronic information sources. Free-Nets are run by voluntary boards who are actively pursuing the delivery of information technology and network access to a broad base of users within their communities. In the U.S., the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN) has evolved as the public lobbying group, national organizing committee, and policy representative for U.S.-based Free-Nets and contributes to the planning of world-wide Free-Nets.

Free-Nets in Canada
In Canada, there are at least 80 communities that have established and are in the process of developing Free-Nets.Within B.C. alone there are many communities with plans for imminent operations, including: Fort St. John, Prince George,Sparwood/Fernie, Squamish/Whistler, and Vancouver and, as of March 1994, there were also three operating Free-Nets:

 Victoria, B.C.      5,500 registered users    
    
       Ottawa, Ontario     15,000 registered users    
    
       Trail, B.C.         4,500 registered users    
  
All of the Free-Nets provide limited "guest" privileges and serve an enormous pool of potential patrons in this way.

B.C. Free-Net Association: In B.C., Free-Net communities have sponsored the B.C. Free- Net Association, formed in January 1994, to champion public electronic communications networks. The association was formed to:


The organizational structure consists of a representative from each Free-Net and an elected executive.

One of the stated objectives of the B.C. Free-Net Association is to develop a province- wide Free-Net strategy that provides central coordination to reduce the duplication of effort and administrative and capital overhead. Any group that provides or is working towards providing free access to community computer and information services is eligible to be a member of the B.C. Free-Net Association and is represented in the association by one person.

Telecommunities Canada: A Canadian Free-Net organization is in the initiation stage and intends to represent national interests. Representatives from the National Capital Free-Net in Ottawa and the Victoria Free-Net are both actively involved in this process, drawing on their experience as the first two operational Free-Nets in Canada.

Victoria Free-Net Association (VIFA): Since its inception in November 1992, VIFA has grown to over 5,500 registered users (patrons) and to 25 incoming phone lines. Although a rule of thumb is that one incoming phone line can support between 200-300 patrons, BC Tel's traffic studies indicate that 150 lines would be needed to cope with the existing demand. Since November 1992, Victoria has seen the establishment of at least five commercial Internet service providers as a direct result of the interest generated by the Free-Net. It is estimated that approximately 20% of the Free-Net user base are now commercial Internet users.

Current Operational Funding Models
Today, the community Free-Net associations are very loosely interconnected. The nature, scope and structure of each association is based upon both the needs of the community and the bias/experience of the volunteers. This is reflected by the range of funding models described in the following section.

B.C. Free-Net Association:
The B.C. Free-Net Association is an organization that supports and coordinates activities of local Free-Nets. It does not have technology assets or operations staff. A proposal has been put forward for a subscription fee from local Free- Nets to cover administration and potential advocacy costs. It does not have any current source of funding.

Victoria Free-Net Association (VIFA):
As of early 1994, Victoria Free-Net had received in kind corporate and individual donations totalling $70,000, including the donation of one UNIX computer from SUN Microsystems of Canada and funding for the provision of telephone lines from BC Tel. The Free-Net has been able to use the Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Centre for public enquiries and has recently been provided with office space through the generosity of Softwords, a Victoria-based software developer. VIFA has been actively seeking government grants and has been negotiating with information providers for service contracts. The Victoria Free-Net Association operates entirely on volunteer efforts for systems management and administrative support services and does not have any membership fees. Its revenue source is from patron and supplier donations.

Vancouver Regional Free-Net is due to be operational by June, 1994. It has created a membership fee structure as follows:

 Individual Annual Memberships:    
      
   Low Income    $15    
   Single Person      $25    
   Family   $40    
      
   Non-Profit Organization Annual Memberships $100 -   $300, based on size of    
     organization and ability to pay.    
     
The Vancouver Regional Free-Net is actively seeking grants for both capital and operating expenses from government institutions and foundations. The association is working on an unsolicited proposal to municipalities, where the municipalities would contribute $0.10 per capita per annum to the operational support of Free-Net.

The Vancouver Free-Net has received the following donations: SUN Microsystems has provided a UNIX computer, Cardinal Technologies has provided 25 modems and Motorola has provided communications equipment. The Vancouver Public Library and the Richmond Public Library have provided office services. The Vancouver Regional Free- Net is currently working with the University of British Columbia to obtain physical facilities for network access equipment and continues to seek broader corporate and institutional support.

CIAO (Trail Free-Net):
The Trail Free-Net was originally conceived as a wide area network for all of the schools in School District #11, with connections to the Internet and received substantial capital funding from the Ministry of Education. It was expanded to include a broader community base and became Canada's third operational Free-Net.

Sea-to-Sky Free-Net:
An active organizing committee is working to provide an operational Free-Net for Whistler, Squamish, and Pemberton later in 1994.

Prince George Free-Net:
The Prince George Free-Net, due to be operational by June 1, 1994, has recently adopted a policy, locally encouraged by the Science Council of B.C., to accept business users under the same guidelines as non-profit information service providers. Financial support from these users will be voluntary. As businesses outgrow Free-Net network capacity, they will be encouraged to move to commercial network providers. An advisory committee of business interests is forming in Prince George and it is expected that this group will contribute to policy development for the local commercial use of Free-Nets. This open door policy for commercial use of Free-Nets is intended as a means to develop locally based electronic service providers who will incur minimal costs to test the market strength of such start-up operations.

Toronto Free-Net:
The Toronto Free-Net Inc. is due to go into operation in April, 1994. Donations have been received from:

This recent example in Toronto deserves recognition be given to the volunteers, fund raising committees, and corporate and institutional partners that have made this collaboration of resources possible. However, it may also illustrate the potential disparity of access to resources between large urban areas and more regionally-based Free-Net operations.

Why are Free-Nets of Interest?
The Free-Net model is unique as it links the capability of communities to define their needs for information services with the global utility provided by the Internet. The Free-Net models have proven that a strong demand exists within the community for information services. Free-Net growth has managed to continually exceed the capability for service delivery. When additional resources are added, usage quickly exceeds their capacity. They have also demonstrated that this demand can be translated into both usage of commercial services and creation of new technology based businesses within the community.

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KEY CHALLENGES

An understanding of the key challenges faced by the Free- Nets in providing service to the community is essential to making the right choices for the future. The discussion that follows explores these challenges and their implications for Free-Nets.

Sustainability
Free-Nets are currently surviving on a combination of donations both corporate and individual, and volunteer labour. The dependence on donations has forced the Free- Nets to operate on a day-to-day basis. However, even though they are severely constrained by resources, Free-Nets have managed to generate, through word of mouth advertising, service demand to fully utilize available capacity.

To offer a service to their various stakeholder groups; the community, the information provider, the patron and the volunteers, Free-Nets must be able to instill confidence in their ability to sustain operations. The community requires a commitment that their investment in Free-Nets will generate an ongoing benefit. Their concern reflects the Free-Nets capability to resource the ongoing operations and administration of a complex technology infrastructure. The information provider requires a stable infrastructure and a known patron base to ensure their message reaches their target audience. Their concern reflects the Free-Net's capability to provide a service level that attracts and maintains a base of registered users or patrons.

The patrons require a range of services and information sources that is accessible, useful and capable of sustaining interest. Their concern is that the service be easy to use and topical with a reasonable ability for access.

The volunteers require a level of resourcing that enables a reasonable level of service to be provided to their community. Their concern is that their efforts expended to initiate a Free- Net and its resulting level of service meets expectations.

In summary, there is a need for ongoing revenue sources for Free-Nets, if they are to become a viable component of the information highway.

Defining Community Needs
One of the key strengths of the Free-Net movement has been its close ties to the local community. The services and information sources of each Free-Net reflect the community's needs and interests. The Free-Net volunteers are community members and are accessible to both Free-Net citizens /patrons and information providers. Free-Net meetings provide a forum to discuss issues relating to technology and the community. Free- Net associations are vehicles to lobby for more information services for the community. Free-Nets, as they grow and evolve, must ensure the community volunteer spirit and commitment is retained. The community has proven to be the best judge of its needs. The volunteer concept embodies a grassroots commitment to success.

The combination has proven to be able to provide services that are both in demand and of benefit to a community. These outcomes have remained elusive to many of the national and commercial test services that have been launched in the past several years.

Providing Ubiquitous Access
Free-Net's strengths of defining services that are in demand have also created one of their major operational problems. Free-Nets require telephone access to the Free-Net's computer system. This access entails a business phone line ($40/month) and a good quality, high- speed modem ($400 each). Each line (assuming usage limits of one hour per sign-on) can support an average of 300 Free-Net users. Demand for services always seems to exceed available lines. For example, an analysis of Victoria Free-Net telephone traffic suggests the need for 150 telephone lines, however, funding only exists for 25. Obtaining the funds to support this demand for access has also proven to be the task that uses the majority of the volunteer resources.

The Free-Nets also have the need to be connected to the Internet for access to other Free- Nets, networks, services, etc. Providing this access usually means a donation from an existing Internet site, usually, but not necessarily, an educational institution. This approach is viable for Free-Nets in larger urban centres, but in smaller communities other solutions are required that can only be addressed as part of a province-wide initiative. Free-Nets also must be usable by the average citizen. They require a user interface that is graphical and initiative. They also require a "support" organization to hand-hold novice users. To date, Free-Nets have been able to deliver on both needs by providing public domain software and through volunteer support.

The experience to date with the Free-Nets has identified that the issues of providing dial-in phone lines and Internet access are both common to, and major problems for, the community of Free-Nets. These issues can benefit from economies of scale and are probably best dealt with at the provincial level. They are also suitable for provincial policy/directional solutions without diluting the community's autonomy.

Scope of Services - What is Provided for Free?
Free-Nets, as their name suggests, provide free services to their public members. However, the services provided have a value (cost) which must be borne. Considerable debate and experimenting has been conducted within the Free-Net environment pertaining to both the range of free services and models for supporting those services.

The issue of how to place a value on a free resource has also been extensively debated and the public library analogy is frequently used. Valuation becomes important when determining how to rank services as well as how to define and prevent waste/abuse by Free-Net users.

The Free-Net experience over the past years has not provided definitive solutions to either issue. The experience has demonstrated a need for trade-offs and has shown the community to be the best judge of where those trade-offs should occur.

Free-Net Structure - What is Free-Net?
As previously stated, Free-Nets have evolved through a grassroots network based upon a set of principles set out in the Free-Net Blue Book. This has lead to a loosely defined concept of what comprises a Free-Net and its supporting organizational entity.

This loose confederation has served well during the incubation stage of the Free-Net movement. However, if this is to be a vehicle for a widespread community roll-out, it is lacking in several key areas.

Firstly, garnering sustained support for a concept that has as many interpretations as the organization has members, creates significant obstacles. The key one is the question: What am I being asked to support/buy? Secondly, the question of who is authorized to represent, or more importantly commit, a Free-Net organization is often raised. Thirdly, the issue of which organization am I supporting is queried. If I support Free-Nets in B.C., how are revenues split between communities? If I support a service for government, do I support Victoria who may host the information or all Free-Nets who provide access?

Free-Nets have also experimented with their role in determining the content of the available information bases. Their roles have ranged from a role of not providing any approval of content to "moderating" all discussion groups and information bases. There has not yet been any definitive model that balances freedom of speech against the need for some level of censorship, that balances access by the public against ownership by the individual.

What is necessary is a definition of minimum standards/definition of what is a Free-Net and the ownership of the resultant information. A process for determining Free- Net membership is needed, as well as a democratic means of electing officers and setting standards of conduct.

As noted earlier, the B.C. Free-Net Association has been formed to promote the establishment of Free-Nets; provide support for existing Free-Net organizations; advocate equitable access to and facilitate public education and awareness of the issues surrounding access to information and network services. The provincial span and community focus of Free-Nets also demands local autonomy for the community Free-Net association while providing a provincial body to provide direction and maintain standards and deal with issues that span communities. The B.C. Free-Net Association is the obvious body to fulfill this province-wide role.

Commercial Use of Free-Nets
This is a controversial issue that tests some of the basic ideology of Free-Nets. Some Free- Net members have been adamantly opposed to the Free-Net as a vehicle for any commercial services. They oppose this for a variety of reasons, one of which being that they feel that it may limit the ability of a Free-Net to gain charitable, non-profit tax status. Others see commercial activity as a means to generate dependable revenue to expand the public access for Free-Net and improve the free services .

A consensus appears to be reached that the Free-Nets can fill a void in the community that is not being readily addressed. The Free-Nets are viewed as being an appropriate vehicle to provide information access services to a variety of non-profit organizations as well as a vehicle for promoting Canadian cultural content. These organizations should contribute towards the cost of this service, with the provision to be able to waive changes if the organization is not able to pay. There is also a growing consensus in B.C., where the rules governing the operation of non-profit societies are quite different from the U.S., that Free- Nets can play a valuable role in providing a base level of access to some commercial services even if they do not provide such services themselves. This is facilitated by the rules of BCnet (British Columbia's Regional Internet) which allows commercial traffic.

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VISION

The purpose of a vision statement is to clearly and succinctly express the reason for Free- Nets. The vision for Free-Nets as reached by the participants in this project is:

A national network of linked communities with grassroots support providing local equitable access to basic educational, social, cultural and commercial interactive communication services. Free-Nets are envisioned as organizations that continue to push the envelope to expand the definition of basic interactive community services.

VALUES FRAMEWORK

The following values framework provides the basis for the development of an accountability structure to guide Free-Net operations and for the design of bench marks and outcome measures which may be used to assess the quality of operating decisions and service delivery.

Democratic Information Exchange: Free-Nets are based on the concept of access to information being public good rather than a scarce resource affordable only by elite professionals. Access to base information is to be provided free.

Foundation for an Information Society: Free-Nets provide a solid foundation for all citizens to participate in the Information Age . They provide an electronic network within the local community as well as access to the broader provincial, national, and global communities. They actively promote information literacy and empower citizens to be providers as well as recipients of information. They provide a forum to promote and distribute Canadian cultural activities and products in the evolving information technology world.

Integrity: Free-Nets have a commitment to openness and honesty and to ensuring that all activities are undertaken in a visibly fair, ethical and prudent manner.

Innovation: Free-Nets are constantly expanding the envelope that delineates the boundaries of information that is available to the public.

Value for Money: Free-Nets are committed to providing a public service in consideration for allowing free access to information. As such, their services must have value to their patrons and information providers alike.

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FREE-NET DEFINITION

As stated in previous sections, Free-Nets require an identity to allow them to be tracked as a viable service provider. This identity is comprised of both organizational structure and service definitions.

To be a Free-Net, the following minimum components must be in place.

Organization: The Free-Net organization must be a non-profit society as per British Columbia government corporate regulations. This society must have members who register annually and pay a membership fee. In order for the Free- Net to be associated, it must be chartered by the B.C. Free- Net Association. The Free-Net must have an elected executive and must adopt the B.C. Free-Net code of conduct. The association must have a method of registering patrons and information providers.

Services: The Free-Net must offer the following services FREE to the patron:

The Free-Net organization must have a process to tailor their service profile to meet the needs of the local community.

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FREE-NET BUSINESS MODEL

The Free-Net business model consists of three components, a context model, an operations model and a services model.

The context model delineates the roles of a provincial Free- Net association and the community association. There are some key functions that can be sustained at the provincial level that would probably be very difficult to sustain if each and every community attempted to handle them individually. The operations model depicts the business functions that comprise a Community Free-Net. The services model presents services provided by Free-Nets and probable markets.

Provincial Free-Net Organization
The Provincial Free-Net Organization is an incorporated body whose role is to: The membership of the organization will be comprised of one delegate from each Community Free-Net. The delegate must be a Community Free-Net member and elected by the Community Free-Net Association.

The B.C. Free-Net Association is the obvious body to play this province-wide role, but its mandate will need to be expanded to provide the following business functions:

Executive Representation: This function represents the Free- Nets at the executive level of government, business, and regulatory groups.

Free-Net Operations: This function supports the Community Free-Net Associations at an operational level. It includes supporting the initiation of new Free-Nets and maintaining policy, practices, and tools for existing Free-Nets. It also includes coordinating/facilitating national and provincial information providers.

Service Marketing: This function markets Free-Net services to telecommunication firms, network services, and provincial/national governments.

Strategic Direction: This function incorporates an Advisory Council that meets on a semi-annual basis to:

The staffing requirements of such a provincial body are minimal as are shown in the following diagrams.

Free-Net Operations Model
The Free-Net operations model reflects the range of services addressed by the Free-Net concept. The services are outlined in the sections that follow.

Access: This component provides local dial-up access to a Community Point-of- Presence (or local access hub) that, in turn, also is linked to a community host computer system. This access component includes the link from the Free-Net host to an Internet access point. It is envisaged that in the order of several thousand local lines will be required to meet the province-wide needs of the base Free-Net service. Services: This function includes the administrative and technical services required to operate the lines, connections, and Internet linkages on a day-to-day basis.

Tools: Tools encompass the public domain software, documentation, "Free-Net toolkits , etc. that are required to provide access to and support the operation of a network of community Free-Nets. Public domain software tools includes world-class products such as Mosaic, Eudora, Gopher, etc.

Communications: This function encompasses the interactive component of Free- Nets. It includes:

This interaction must include connectivity to other Community Free-Nets. It may include connectivity to other networks, either government, private, or commercial.

Information Services: The information services function incorporates access to all available electronic information sources. These sources may be the following:

Free-Nets must be viewed as providers of services that have a value to their patrons. The challenge is to translate the service valuation into a commodity that can be in turn used to operate a Free-Net. The services' potential customers and a valuation model are illustrated below.

Free-Nets must be viewed as providers of services that have a value to their patrons. The challenge is to translate the service valuation into a commodity that can be in turn used to operate a Free-Net. The services' potential customers and a valuation model are illustrated below.

SERVICES POTENTIAL CUSTOMERS PAYMENT /VALUE
Providing access to information and interactive forums/E-mail
-Residents of a community
- Canadian artists, writers, composers, etc.
- Annual membership fees
- Donations
- Volunteer labour
Providing "incubator" Internet access
- Community small business
- Community professionals
- Donations
- Volunteer services
Providing community group information bulletin boards/ databases/ E-mail - Non-profit groups
- Community funded agencies - Cultural groups
- Infrastructure access
- Capital equipment donation - - Annual memberships
- Grants
- Billable services
Introducing Information Age technology into a community
- Community government
- Community associations/ groups
- Grants
- Government surplus computer equipment
Providing access to Government Information Services
- Local government
- Provincial government
- Federal government
-Billable services
- Grants
- Government surplus computer equipment
Creating demand/ customers for Information Services
-Telecom service providers
- Network operators
- Grants
- Communication services

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OUTCOME MANAGEMENT FRAMEWORK

Outcome management processes are required to ensure Free- Net strategies, practices and service deliver a predictable result. The processes must be translated into measurable results and incorporated into the Free-Net management framework. This framework must include a process to adjust strategies/practices/directions when desired outcomes are not being achieved. An outline of an outcome management framework is presented below.

OUTCOME MEASURES

Processes Enablers Outcomes
Free-Net
Patron
-Free-Net Registration
-Facilities Management
-Technical Support
-Free-Net Volunteers
-Technology infrastructure
-Public domain tools
-Ability to use the service
-Public area access
-Usable information
-Stable service
Information Provider -Free-Net Volunteers
-Provincial Agreements
-Access
-Computer hardware
-Internet connectivity
-Use by target audience
-Stable service
Community -Community Free-Net Association
-Management Framework
-Internet connectivity
-Carrier point of presence
-Commercial service availability
-Support for non-profits

CRITICAL SUCCESS FACTORS

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STRATEGIC PRIORITIES

To implement our vision for Free-Nets throughout British Columbia the following are the priority activities that must be undertaken.

Enhance the Structure of the B.C. Free-Net Association
The B.C. Free-Net Association requires enhancements to include the following:

Harmonize Core Elements of Community Free-Nets
The existing community of Free-Nets require changes to conform to the base Free-Net model. To the best of our knowledge all the existing Free-Nets comply with the intent of this model, the areas that require enhancement are in practice and/or administrative structure areas. For example, Victoria Free-Net Association will need to incorporate a formal voting membership process into its structure.
Implement Community Free-Nets
To implement the vision for Free-Nets, a project, Community Free-Nets, should be resourced and initiated. At a minimum, this project should encompass the following:

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MARKETING PLAN

This marketing plan is intended to provide a framework for the valuation of Free-Net services in a competitive marketplace. For each service outlined in the strategic plan, the plan describes the service, positions Free-Net services in the market, structures the pricing strategy, and outlines the marketing strategy.

The proposed Free-Net services address a market segment that is currently not served by any commercial or government service. Free-Nets targets the entry level user or patron, either business or non-commercial. Free-Nets are not positioned to be able to support a user requiring a service profile that fits current commercial offerings.

The Free-Nets cater to the following patron profiles:

The estimated potential members/patron for Free-Nets are as follows:

BC Market Free-Net Market Share
Households 1,302,000 300,000
Small Businesses 120,000 12,000
Professionals 80,000 40,000
Municipalities 150 100
Public Access Terminals
1,000
(20,000 to 30,000 users)

Service 1 -- Providing access to information and interactive forums/E-mail and providing a vehicle to develop, promote, and distribute Canadian cultural products/activities/ information.

Service Description
This service provides an individual patron with the following: Market Potential
Competition: None at this time.

Pricing Strategy/Structure
Membership Fee: This fee should be in the range of $10 to $50 per year for individuals who wish to have the right to participate in setting the direction/policy of Free-Nets.

Donations:Donations should be encouraged via a message on the sign-on screen. Donations can be further encouraged by mailing a Free-Net file listing donors and cumulative total of donations. Free- Nets should also ensure that a Revenue Canada charitable donation status (number) is received.

Marketing Strategy
Experience to date has lead us to believe that acquiring Free- Net patrons has not been an issue The limiting factor on registering patrons has been the ability to support the patron base. The strategy to build the patron base should focus on fostering new Free-Net communities rather than attracting individual patrons.

To foster new Free-Net communities, several channels should be followed.

The first builds upon the existing public library infrastructure using the library professionals as the sponsor for the community Free-Net. An alternate channel is through the information technology associations such as Canadian Information Processing Society, Vancouver Island Advanced Technology Centre, Data Processing Managers Association, etc. The educational community (e.g. Trail Free-Net) provides another marketing channel as well as the community Chambers of Commerce.

Service 2 -- Providing incubator Internet access.

Service Description
This service provides a business or a professional with the opportunity to experiment with Internet services and/or commercial offerings. The services are provided for a set period of time. Three months are suggested and encompass such Internet services as telnet, ftp, and Usenet, which are usually somewhat restricted on a Community Free-Net, as well as the higher level of E-mail and WWW access that are appropriate for business or professional use.

Market Potential

Competition
Commercial Internet Access Providers are a common outgrowth of Free-Net activity in any community. At least five of the growing number of such companies in Victoria are a direct result of the Victoria Free-Net. Although a number of Commercial Internet Access Providers exist in major metropolitan areas, such as Vancouver, they are so uncommon in the smaller communities that BC Systems has recently offered such a service, on a pilot basis, in Kelowna, with the stated intention of handing it over to the private sector as soon as possible.

Planning Strategy/Structure
This service should be offered where there is no existing Commercial Internet Access Provider for an quarterly donation that is equivalent to a comparable commercial service.

Marketing Strategy
These services should be marketed by the local Free-Net in conjunction with the local Chamber of Commerce. It should be included in the Chamber's newsletters/publications as well as being incorporated into the Chamber's advertising program.

The B.C. Free-Net Association should market these services to the Ministry of Tourism, Small Business and Culture. They should be incorporated into ministry business publications as well as being promoted through regional economic development officers/ programs. The B.C. Free-Net Association should also market the services through Industry Canada, incorporating it into publications, seminars, B.C.- based programs and business information centres.

The B.C. Free-Net Association should also market the service through the professional associations such as Chartered Accountants, Certified Management Accountants, Professional Engineers, Certified Management Consultants, etc. As well, the services should be aggressively marketed through artists, writers, composers, etc. associations and groups.

Service 3 -- Providing community group information services and access for cultural groups.

Service Description
Community Free-Nets provide the following services for community non-profit groups/ societies/ associations. This definition is intended to provide access for the purpose of establishing and promoting the development of a Canadian cultural content on the Information Highway. Market Potential
There are estimated to be in the order of magnitude of 10,000 non-profit groups in B.C. Unfortunately, the scope of this project did not allow for an accurate enumeration.

Competition
There are specific vertical networks, such as Dogwood for museums, in the process of being established. Many of these are already liaising with the Free-Nets at a community or provincial level. In addition, there are a growing number of stand-alone bulletin boards being established by local non- profit groups which could provide much better and more cost-effective services if incorporated into the Community Free-Nets.

Pricing Strategy

Marketing Strategy
The marketing strategy for this service is threefold:
the B.C. Free-Net Association, working with the Provincial Government Services, should educate funding organizations on the capability of Free-Nets;
the Community Free-Net should market to community groups through direct contact; and
Free-Net patrons should be encouraged through a community discussion group to identify new information sources/groups.

Service 4 -- Introducing Information Age technology into a community.

Service Description
The Information Highway Advisory Council's terms of reference states:
The information highway initiative is essential for Canada's success in a new global economy in which value, jobs and wealth are based on the creation, movement and application of information. Its enabling effects will be felt in all industry sectors.

Free-Net services provide a key opportunity for a community to participate in the national Information Highway initiative. It provides the capability to link the residents of the community with information networks operated by governments, education institutions, health/ social service providers and commercial services. It provides the opportunity to interchange views, ideas and information with other communities. As well, it links the community to the global village .

Free-Nets also provide additional services to the community:

Market Potential
There are 149 municipalities within B.C. plus a number of unincorporated communities. There is also the potential to structure Community Free-Nets for Aboriginal communities which would substantially increase the market potential.

Competition
There are a number of initiatives that link British Columbia to segments of the Information Highway Initiative (e.g., Rnet and the Provincial Learning Network). Free-Net is unique as its focus is linking to the citizen rather than to institutions or specialized groups.

Pricing Strategy
The need for government support for this service is modest. Free-Net envisages the following support:

Marketing Strategy
The marketing strategy is through lobbying at all levels of government as well as encouraging/ promoting media interest in Free-Nets.

Service 5 -- Providing access to Government Information Services.

Service Description
Free-Nets provide two levels of service for providing electronic access to government information. The first is providing access to government information bases/ services. This service provides a link between Free-Net and government computer systems that maintain the databases.
The second is housing and providing access to databases for government funded, province- wide, non-profit organizations. This service receives data from the organization which is in turn loaded onto the Free-Net system in a form allowing access from anywhere in the network. By providing a means for interactive access to information, Free-Nets are a vehicle for government to streamline and improve its operations.

Market Potential
The number of non-profit databases that are suitable for Free- Net access is estimated to be in the order of magnitude of 1,000.

Competition
Queen's Printer Bulletin Board Services and print media

Pricing Strategy
1. For province-wide government funded non-profit groups:

2. For government databases: Marketing Strategy
The marketing strategy for this service is via the establishment of protocols with government. Two protocols are required. The first is at the strategy/policy level and requires an executive champion to ensure Free-Nets are a sustained component of the government's information dissemination strategy. The second is at the operational level and provides the service of formatting government information bases to ensure they are accessible from Free- Nets. The strategy/policy champion for the British Columbia provincial government is envisaged to be the Ministry of Government Services and the operational support is the Queen's Printer.

Service 6 -- Creating demand/customers for Information Services.

Service Description
Free-Nets provide a valuable service to telecommunication and network service providers. Free-Nets create market demand. They are a large scale means to initiate and educate potential commercially viable patrons (households, professionals and small business). They are not competition for commercial services as Free-Nets do not provide a level of service suitable for sustained business use. Free-Nets also provide an incubator service to nurture both business and personal users of information services. Free- Nets provide the support for a user when they would not be commercially viable and are structur ed to evolve them to a commercial service when they become self-sufficient.

Market Potential
Free-Nets are estimated to convert one out of five patrons to be a viable commercial user of telecommunication/network services within a 12 month window. The size of the patron conversion is limited by the number access lines available to Free-Nets up to an estimate of 20% Free-Net potential patrons.

Competition: None at this time.

Pricing Strategy
The pricing strategy for this service is for the communication carriers to provide a ratio of one local telephone line for every 1,000 households in the community for local Free-Net use. The carriers would also provide access from the Community Point-of-Presence to a Free-Net host computer.

Marketing Strategy
This service is to be marketed by preparing proposals to the major carriers, BC Tel and Unitel, as well as supporting documentation for the CRTC.

Comments to: freenet@teleconsult.com

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