Members make the Free‑Net go
The Toronto Free‑Net is run entirely by its members.
We have no paid staff.
Our members all contribute to our common success, each according to their
ability and their available time.
There are a number of ways to contribute and participate:
- Donate money, equipment
The Toronto Free‑Net is democratic. All members are encouraged to attend our annual general meetings (AGMs), which are held every fall. Along with hearing reports from the president and other elected officers, Free‑Net members at the AGM can:
- ask questions
- table resolutions
- debate resolutions
- vote on resolutions
- seek nomination to the board of directors
- vote on nominees to the board of directors
Attending monthly board meetings
Through the rest of the year, the directors elected at previous AGMs meet monthly to steer the Free‑Net ship.
If you plan to attend a board meeting, please let Free‑Net's secretary know. If we know that you plan to be at a meeting, we will try to wait for you. Also, the secretary will keep you informed of any schedule changes.
Occasionally, the board must discuss and decide sensitive matters which
only Free‑Net directors may hear. This is called an executive session. When that happens, persons who are not Free‑Net directors may have to step outside.
About 1 in 10 board meetings spends some time in executive session, and
these sessions tend to last long. Free‑Net officers, particularly the one who
prepares the agenda, usually have a sense of when that is likely to occur.
So, if you want to avoid traveling to such a meeting, ask the
secretary whether an executive session is likely at the next meeting.
Between physical meetings, Free‑Net's directors use a mailing list for ongoing discussion. All members are welcome to subscribe as well. Just send a message containing the word "subscribe" to: board-request (at the Free‑Net). You must send that message from your Free‑Net address. You will then receive a reply, asking you to confirm that you sent the
original message (this guards against email spoofing).
Minutes of board meetings are published about a month after each meeting, usually after being approved at the subsequent board meeting. The board mailing list receives a draft earlier.
Donate money, equipment
Financial donations, beyond your subscription, help fund many Free‑Net needs:
- Free‑Net provides free of charge Internet services, which are an essential lifeline for people who cannot afford the paid services.
- Free‑Net reaches out to people who are isolated and who live on few means, and engages them in the community through its volunteer programs. Costs include public transit for those who cannot afford it.
- Free‑Net's core operating costs are covered by subscriptions. However, donations help finance our growth and development.
You can make stand-alone donations whenever is convenient for you, or you can, at any time, add an extra amount to your recurring payment.
Regretfully, Free‑Net is currently not able to issue charitable tax receipts but we hope to start doing so again in the future.
You can help Toronto Free‑Net by contributing your old equipment and by keeping an eye open for equipment that others may be discarding.
Contact Free‑Net or just drop off your contributions at Free‑Net's Bay & Dundas office, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, noon to 8 pm.
The following are currently specifically needed:
- Datacenter equipment
- Cisco routers.
- Cisco router fibre modules.
- Cisco router octal cables (8 cables join into one connector).
- DSLAMs, most brands.
- Ethernet switches, any brand.
- Other communications equipment
- serial terminals (look for a keyboard that plugs directly into a monitor).
- SDSL modems.
- ADSL modems.
- external dialup modems.
- Office equipment
- Nortel office telephones for 2 or more phone lines, with conferencing speaker.
- telephone head-sets.
- General & construction tools
- screwdrivers: flat, Philips, Robertson.
- pliers and needle-nose pliers.
- cutters for thick cable.
- wire strippers.
- sharp blades.
- measuring tape 6' and >= 25'.
- staple guns
- flashlights, especially high-powered ones.
- flashlights that mount on a hard-hat or on one's bare head (you will tend to find the latter amongst medical supplies).
- Power tools
- power screwdriver.
- power drill, variable speed.
- hammer drill.
- drill bits (common and masonry).
- hole saws.
- Tools for electrical work
- electrical screwdriver (these are manual screwdrivers that contain a lamp, which lights up in the presence of AC voltage).
- portable watt-meter (measures power consumption).
- multimeters (volt-ohm, etc).
- Telecom tools
- wire-tracing kits (i.e. tone generator + probe).
- punch-down tools.
- clip-on phones(aka butt-sets — ruggedized 1-piece phones for testing telephone service).
- line testers (devices that test ADSL connections, amongst other things).
- Computer parts
- RAM: PC133, DDR, DDR2.
- SATA hard drives, 0.5 TB or bigger.
- IDE hard drives, 200 GB or bigger.
- dialup modem cards.
- PCI cards that provide voice telephone functions.
- antistatic bags.
- Electrical & electronics parts
- aligator clips.
- wire and cable connectors of all kinds.
- wire pieces.
- Cables and connectors
- gender-changers of all kinds.
- household telephone extension cords.
- Ethernet patch cords (short lengths of cable with plugs on both ends that look just like telephone plugs but are slightly wider, so they won't fit into a regular telephone outlet. These plugs are called 8-position, 8-conductor modular connectors, abbreviated to 8p8c. Some people call them "RJ45 plugs", which is the name of a telephone standard that used them).
- RS-232 null-modem cables with female DE9 connector on both sides (female DE9 has a D-shaped cross-section with 9 holes: 5 on top, 4 below).
- RS-232 DE9 to USB cables.
- RS-232 null-modem cables with female DE9 connector on one side and modular 8p8c ("RJ45") plug on the other side.
- Raw cable
- Ethernet cable, plenum rated (look for 8 wires inside and "CMP" printed on the cable).
- unsheathed telephone patch wires (look for a pair of wires, twisted around each other, often coloured yellow, blue, or white. One wire in the pair may have a coloured stripe).
- residential, 2-twisted-pair telephone cable (that's 4 wires, in a cable that is round, not flat).
- telephone cable, 25-pair, rated riser or better (look for "CMR" or, better, "CMP" printed on the cable).
- telephone cable, 25-pair, for outdoor suspension (it is thick and tar-black).
- Household stuff
- Old telephone fixtures (for classroom props; need not work).
- telephone wall sockets.
- telephone indoor junctions (typically small grey boxes, an inch or two tall, used for telephone wires but having no telephone socket).
- pieces of outdoor telephone cable.
- telephone NIDs (Network Interface Devices)(there are many varieties, some indoor, some outdoor. The outdoor cable from the telephone company terminates there. Outdoor NIDs are typically grey non-descript plastic boxes held closed by a screw).
- doorbell parts.
- cotton rags (eg old T-shirts).
- books on technologies fundamental to our business — telecommunications, networking, unix, programming, systems administration. Especiallyolder book s and books that cover a topic in depth.
- manuals for modems and routers of any kind.
- books about the Internet. books that teach disciplines needed in business — marketing, graphic design, copywriting, sales, accounting, management, corporate law.
- books on other technologies and crafts — electronics, wireless, handiwork, repairs. These topics aren't of direct use to Free‑Net but they tend to interest Free‑Net people.
- other books for our library's eclectic corner — anything you would recommend as worthwhile reading — philosophy, history, Canadiana, fiction.
How Free‑Net chooses parts
Some Free‑Net projects are driven by need. For example, a community organization may ask us to build a redundant secure connection between two offices. Or Free‑Net's growth may necessitate adding another core router to spread the load. These situations require very specific parts. If we are lucky, those parts are already in our stock, previously donated or found by Free‑Net members. If not, we purchase. Some needs can be predicted years in advance, and we try to plan ahead.
Other Free‑Net projects are started or are driven by opportunity: they explore whichever direction is made possible by parts which Free‑Net has in abundance.
Free‑Net volunteers review the parts we receive, and identify items that could be put to use by Free‑Net. If no one at Free‑Net can think of a way to use a part now or
in the future, we send the part to Free Geek Toronto.
We try hard to reuse. This benefits the planet as well as Free‑Net's budget. There is a balance between the need for reliability and the desire to reduce electronic waste and costs. In our production networks, we do not compromise on reliability. But with careful long-term planning, and with the community's participation, it is often possible to save money without compromising.
All members contribute to Toronto Free‑Net's success in one way or
another, each according to their ability and their available time.
When volunteering, you can commit to doing as little or as much
as you want. Volunteering at your freenet is a great way to
help add services which you would like to use yourself. Free‑Net is
also a gathering place, where people share knowledge, gain experience,
and make friends. Join the fun —
contact Free‑Net for a volunteer interview!
Here are just some of the things that volunteers do:
- Keep office hours: greet and assist members who come to the office.
- Payment processing: process members' payments, update their access
level and contact info.
- Tech support: answer phone calls for technical support from members.
- Software development: write custom software for the servers and for
- Software deployment: select, install, configure, and maintain
Free Software applications used by members on the servers.
- Market research: we may be non-profit but we provide services
for which there are commercial competitors. Keep track of what
we do better than them and what we must improve to stay competitive.
- Supplier research: watch the market for parts and services which we
use, to ensure that we get the best deal.
- Telecom regulatory monitoring: monitor the CRTC, its proceedings
and decisions, and competitor's maneuvering. Plan our
strategy and formulate our responses to the CRTC.
- Corporate regulatory monitoring: monitor changes in government
regulations affecting our corporation. Propose and implement
changes to keep us in compliance.
- Legal: Review contracts offered by suppliers. Propose updates
to Free‑Net's acceptable use rules and to agreements between Free‑Net and its
members that are fair and that balance the needs of the individual
against the corporate interest of all members.
Should it ever become necessary, fight for Free‑Net in court!
- Marketing: Think up ways to reach new members. Analyze
- Advertising: develop materials to communicate our message
(posters, brochures, radio messages, YouTube messages, etc).
- R&D: research new services and technologies into which Free‑Net
- Hardware building: build computers from parts.
- Systems administration: administer the existing servers;
investigate problems; respond to emergencies.
- Systems development: research and test solutions to long-standing
technical problems on the servers.
- Web content: maintain this website.
- Bookkeeping: collate, maintain, and distribute data on member payments
received and on bills paid.
- Accounting: produce annual financial statements; track income and
expenses; file taxes. Produce financial projections and other
reports to support organizational planning.
- Auditing: independently audit our annual financial statements.
- Payables: keep track of our bills and prepare cheques to suppliers.
- Collections: occasionally, members have trouble making their
payments. When that happens, we contact them to try to find a way
to help them with their Internet needs without breaking the bank!
- Volunteer coordination: match volunteers to tasks which they are
likely to enjoy and which align with their personal growth goals.
Track progress to ensure that tasks are getting done.
Plead, goad, hound, or else re-assign tasks if necessary!
Praise publicly, criticize privately and constructively,
in fair and appropriate doses.
Monitor volunteer satisfaction, boost morale, re-assign volunteers
or send them on "vacation" when they need a change.
Ensure that volunteers are neither left idle nor overwhelmed to the
point of quitting. Ensure that each volunteer's ongoing
learning and growth isn't neglected. Plan for future skill
needs and pursue redundancy in the volunteer corps.
Prevent work duplication.
Keep volunteers focused on work that is needed.
Help volunteers coordinate with each other.
Keep the peace between volunteers.
This task requires scheduling, problem-solving, and planning skills,
self-motivation, good judgement, tact, an understanding of human nature,
political shrewdness, and perseverance in the face of disappointment.
- Locate members who have moved, and update their contact information
(so that we can comply with the legal requirement to notify them of
- Shameless solicitation: contact members who haven't used Free‑Net in a
long time, learn their needs, inform them of Free‑Net's current services
and volunteer needs!
- Sales: answer questions from people who are thinking of becoming
members. Answer questions from members about Free‑Net services they
- Hand-holding: help people who have difficulty filling out
the membership form.
- Help pages: write documentation to teach members how to use the
- Teaching: prepare and present topical lectures and ongoing
introductory courses on computer and Internet use.
- Event planning: organize social events to foster community between
- Affiliate relations: stay in touch with other freenets and with other
organizations that have goals similar to ours. Seek ways to
cooperate, to avoid effort duplication, and to share knowledge
- Dusting & sweeping: help keep the office clean!
- Street postering.
- Member communications: produce reports of Free‑Net activities to the members.
- Fund-raising: think up ways to raise money for new projects.
- Grants: identify and apply for appropriate grants.
Spread the word
You can also help Free‑Net by spreading the word about Free‑Net
When people hear about Toronto Free‑Net, they're interested because it's so unique. We focus on people, not profits. You can help ensure that more people hear about Free‑Net.
Share Free‑Net materials
You can pick up Free‑Net advertising materials from the Free‑Net office. All printed materials are available in a box outside the Free‑Net office at 600 Bay St., so you can pick up even outside of Free‑Net office hours.
You can also download and print your own Free‑Net advertising materials:
- Plain poster (8.5" x 11", B&W, PDF, 162 kB)
- Leaflet (double-sided, B&W, PDF, 44 kB). Print on 8.5" x 11" paper, then fold into three.
- Leaflet for Free Geek Toronto (double-sided, B&W, PDF, 2.1 MB). Print on 8.5" x 11" paper, then fold into three. Free Geek Toronto is a separate non-profit whose goals are similar and with whom we cooperate.
How to help out informally
All members contribute to Toronto Free‑Net's success in one way or another, each according to their ability and their available time.
Rather than volunteer, some members participate informally, by spreading the word to friends and neighbours. They might put up a poster on a bulletin board while visiting their grocery store. Or they might mention Free‑Net when the subject of Internet service comes up in conversation with friends. Thus, they can contribute without making a commitment — simply by seizing small opportunities, as they arise in their day-to-day life.
Here are some ways to help out, without actually volunteering:
- Tell people about Toronto Free‑Net: Tell friends, neighbours, even strangers waiting in queue! Keep a Free‑Net leaflet in your bag, to hand out when an occasion arises!
- Distribute Free‑Net leaflets. When going to your library branch, community centre, social assistance office, or other public space, take a small stack of Free‑Net leaflets with you, and give it to a librarian or receptionist, to restock their supply. If they did not previously keep a supply of Free‑Net leaflets, you get to introduce them to Free‑Net!
- Put Free‑Net posters on bulletin boards: When doing your errands, take a couple of Free‑Net posters with you. Put one up when you pass by a good spot, such as the bulletin boards at work and at grocery stores, laundromats, bakeries, coffee shops, etc. If in doubt as to whether a Free‑Net poster would be welcome at a particular spot, ask the shopkeeper or custodian of that space. If they like it, they might post it in a prominent spot, such as on a store-front window! Please remember to be courteous in spaces that are owned or managed by someone. If a shopkeeper says "no", accept their refusal. It is their shop, so it is their right to keep it as they please.
- Do door-to-door sales people ring your doorbell? Rather than sending them away empty handed, lift their spirits by telling them about Free‑Net and handing them a Free‑Net leaflet! Keep a small stack of leaflets by your front door.
- Do you receive flyers in your postal mailbox? The people who deliver those flyers have Internet needs too! Attach a Free‑Net poster with tear-off strips to your mailbox, then watch as the people who bring you flyers also take a tear-off strip of paper with Free‑Net's phone number!
The annual Free‑Net picnic!
Enjoy a relaxed afternoon with other Toronto Free‑Net members, sharing sunshine, food, and stories. See old friends and make new ones! Meet other Free‑Net members and volunteers. Get answers to your questions about Free‑Net or about the Internet.
Bring the kids! Bring your friends! Bring food to share!
- Bring your own food and drinks. If you can, bring some to share.
- Alcohol is disallowed at the picnic site — park rules.
- There is little shade in the middle of the day; remember to bring sun protection.
- Bring an umbrella in case of rain showers.
Directions by car:
- Drive to High Park avenue & Bloor street.
- Drive south, into the park, along High Park avenue.
- Upon entering the park, the southbound and northbound sides of High Park avenue separate into two one-way streets.
- Parking: there are several parking areas (all free of charge) along the southbound branch of High Park avenue (a.k.a. West Road). Should the park prove excessively crowded, there is also free of charge street parking in the side-streets to the north and to the west of the park.
- Continue with the walking instructions.
Directions by TTC:
- Take the subway to High Park station.
- Exit from the station's east end.
- Walk a short distance east to High Park avenue, then south to Bloor, then cross Bloor and enter High Park.
- Continue with the walking instructions.
- Just 30 metres into the park from Bloor street, the southbound and northbound sides of High Park avenue separate into two one-way streets. On the west sidewalk, you will see two map billboards.The first one (northmost one) is exactly at that separation.
- Our picnic table is west and a little south of the first billboard: walk west-southwest, off the road, into the trees.
- It's about 20 metres (50 paces, a one-minute walk), from the sign to picnic area #1. If you reach the brick building (chess house & washrooms), you've gone too far.We are south and a little east of that.
By choosing Toronto Free‑Net, you get excellent service while supporting universal Internet access across the GTA, all at a bargain price!