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Free for all on the Internet in 1994

The Story

A growing number of activists and techies are working to keep tollbooths off the information highway. Canada already has a handful of "freenets" -- networks the provide simple, text-only access to the internet, free of charge. The movement is growing, but potential surfers are being denied access to this "electronic commons" as they encounter waiting lists and busy signals. In this clip, two freenet champions discuss the idea of internet access as a public good and an individual right. 

Medium: Television
Program: Midday
Broadcast Date: Nov. 9, 1994
Guest(s): Jim Carroll, Michael Gillespie
Host: Kevin Newman, Tina Srebotnjak
Duration: 7:49

Did You know?

• Freenets began in Canada in the early 1990s. They typically provide dial-up (low speed) connections and text-heavy services such as newsgroups, e-mail and chat rooms. Their services usually do not offer graphics.
• The growth of high-speed internet access has resulted in the death of many freenets.

• The world's first freenet was the Cleveland Freenet. It began in 1984 when Dr. Tom Grundner at Case Western Reserve University created a free electronic community medical helpline called St. Silicon's Hospital. By 1986 it had branched out to include non-medical information, and became the Cleveland Freenet. It closed down on Sept. 30, 1999, in part because the freenet software was not Y2K compatible and the university did not want to pay for upgrades.

• The world's second freenet was Ottawa's National Capital Freenet (NCF). It was set up at Carleton University in 1992 and is still in operation. NCF is a not-for-profit organization owned and run by thousands of members. Membership is free.

• The Toronto Freenet (TFN) was formed in 1993. It was Canada's third, after Ottawa and Victoria. According to its online mission statement, TFN's three goals are to become a central point of reference for information about Toronto, provide equitable access for the community, and prepare the community "to function effectively in an information society."

• Manitoba's Blue Sky Freenet, the first provincewide effort, went out of business in April 1998 when their telephone lines were cut off for non-payment.
• Other Canadian freenets have included the St.John's InfoNet, Chebucto Freenet (Halifax), Montreal Freenet, Hamilton-Wentworth Freenet, Regina Freenet, Saskatoon Freenet, Calgary Freenet, Edmonton Freenet and Vancouver Freenet.

• Since 2000, the term freenet has also been used for a new type of network; a decentralized "peer-to-peer" file sharing system designed to combat censorship. It encrypts data and stores it in pieces on the computers of its members. The participants do not know what data is stored on their computer, and can operate in almost complete anonymity.

• By 2005 the Toronto Freenet had limited the amount of free time allotted to users to 14 minutes per day. Beyond that, subscribers had access to low-cost subscription packages.

• There are many other key steps in the evolution of the Canadian internet which have not been documented in the CBC Archives. Though too many to list, some of the major milestones include:
- CDNnet, built in 1981 at the University of British Columbia with federal funding, to deliver e-mail across Canada
- The NetNorth Consortium, a university-based network formed in 1984 as the Canadian counterpart to the U.S. BITNET
- CA*Net, Canada's first national internet backbone, created in 1990 by the National Research Council with private sector support. CA*Net began taking over from NetNorth in 1991. Beginning in 1995 it was handed over to Bell Canada and was ended in 1997.

• CANARIE Inc. was formed in 1993 as a consortium of academic, public and private interests working to enhance the speed and development of the internet in Canada. The organization went on to develop CA*net 3, a national super high-speed optical "extranet" linking academic institutions.


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