Authors: Shawn Henry, Andrew Avis and Casey Vander Ploeg

This report provides an overview of the Free-Net movement in Canada. It is part of the Info-Age Passport Project, a three year joint initiative which aims to enhance public access to the information highway, to educate the non-profit sector about the Internet and to share the experience of Calgary Free-Net organizers and volunteers with communities across Alberta and Canada.

In particular, this report focuses on:

The Internet, its history, phenomenal growth and the technology behind it;
The Free-Net movement, its history and potential impact on the continuing development of the information highway in Canada; and
The challenges facing the Free-Net movement in Canada, their implications for the future development of the information highway and some of the alternatives available to meet these challenges.
Free-Nets focus on providing affordable Internet access and Internet-related education. But they have reached a crossroad in their development and face a number challenges:

The high cost of starting and operating a Free-Net;
Keeping up with technology;
Denial of charitable status and the impact on fundraising that this implies; and
Potential for conflict arising from a perceived competition with commercial Internet providers.
Solutions are identified to assist Free-Nets in overcoming these challenges, with the goal of continuing to provide Canadians with education about the Internet and universal and affordable access.