154. Fifteen Years of
By Andrew D. Wright
In June 1994 a group of people from a variety of backgrounds did something
that put Halifax on the map. They created a community net, only the second
one in Canada after Ottawa.
A community net is a non-profit organization that ensures access to the
Internet is available to everyone. The Halifax group formed a non-profit
society, calling it the Chebucto Community Net.
These were people from the general public, the public library system, and
from Dalhousie University who gathered together to make sure people in the
Metro Halifax area would all be able to access the Internet at a time when
most people were only vaguely aware that there was such a thing at all.
Looking around at all the software packages available for community nets,
none met the needs of the budding Chebucto Community Net so undaunted,
they wrote their own. Tying together text-based web browser, email and
text editing programs into one secure shell capable of administering user
and organizational needs was no easy feat.
The hallways of the grey stone Chase Building on the Dalhousie University
campus buzzed with students working on the collection of shell scripts
making up what they would call CSuite, the Chebucto Suite community
networking package. Professors volunteered time to oversee the development
work and community nets across Canada and as far away as the Ukraine would
use the award-winning software to set up their own community nets.
And the users started coming. With Chebucto Community Net's text-based
interface able to run on virtually any computing device capable of dialing
a phone, users running everything from Commodore 64s to later generation
electric typewriters with modem capability were connecting to the Internet
and using email for the first time.
Local government offices and companies discovered what a web site was and
they were hosted on Chebucto's servers. Halifax City Hall, HRM Public
Libraries, all originally started on the web on this non-profit service.
Volunteers with Chebucto and the local libraries offered free classes in
using the Internet.
For the first four years of existence, Chebucto Community Net saw
incredible growth as it introduced the local general public to the
Internet. The Internet became serious business as the local telephone
company then the local cable company began offering Internet.
Chebucto Community Net's numbers started declining. Still, it is not a
coincidence that Halifax scores in the top tier of Canadian cities for
Internet awareness and that all the top cities have their own community
Tens of thousands of people and hundreds of groups and organizations can
owe their web initiation to the volunteers who started the Chebucto
Community Net and to the dedicated people still keeping the idea alive
today, fifteen long years later.
Chebucto Community Net serves a vital role in the ecosystem that is
network access in Metro Halifax. A web host for small groups and
businesses where they can be safe. Web access to people who cannot afford
commercial Internet. An information resource for the world.
In fifteen years the Internet has gone from being a curiousity to becoming
a crucial part of daily life for most people. Technology has moved on in
giant leaps and there is a home computer almost everywhere. And the
Digital Divide has grown. With today's economy people on fixed incomes,
seniors, people with disabilities, all folks who could use home Internet
access, are being left out.
Here's to 15 years of non-profit publicly-run Internet, Halifax! To the
staff, volunteers and members who have made this possible, the work
continues! We can always use more help.
are welcome and tax deductible.
Chebucto Community Net: http://chebucto.ca/
The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community
Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about
computing, email firstname.lastname@example.org or
click here. If we use your question
in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.
Originally published 12 June 2009