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How TFN differs from other ISPs

Toronto Free-Net (TFN) is a non-profit, self-funded, Internet service provider (ISP).  It is controlled by its own users, who are the corporation's voting members.  TFN is very different from ordinary ISPs.  This page details just some of the differences.  See also the Why choose TFN page.

Steady low prices

Toronto Free-Net prices aren't just cheap.  They are also steady.

Large for-profit ISPs offer low prices only as introductory discounts for a limited time, only to select customers, or only if you lock-in to a long contract for multiple services.  Their advertised prices constantly shift to draw attention.  Their contract terms get printed in smaller and smaller print, with more conditions and costly penalties.  TFN prices remain steady and low (cheap) for all members.

Toronto Free-Net prices are sustainably low while providing excellent service.

For high speed broadband Internet service, even with the high priced big-name providers, it is common to have to hold for an hour in a telephone queue.  Typically, you must re-explain your problem to each new customer representative you encounter.

At TFN, rather than make you wait, we call you back.  We remember your problem while it is being worked on.  You can get a status simply by phoning.  You won't have to re-explain the issue — you will be routed directly to the person who is currently working on it.

For dialup Internet service, some discount outfits offer cheap or even free service.  Typically, the tradeoff is that their dialup can be unreliable and that you must view advertisements before seeing the web page which you are trying to reach.  Sometimes they provide very limited or even no technical support so, if you encounter a difficult problem, you are on your own.

TFN is established, with a twenty-year track record of helpful service and fair prices (in fact, TFN is Toronto's oldest ISP).  Toronto Free-Net provides a premium service but at cheap prices.

Prices vetted by TFN members

While other providers are, by their commercial nature, required to pursue profit and to charge the highest price that the market will bear, Toronto Free-Net prices are always reasonable because TFN members would strike down any attempt to set inappropriately high prices.  Voting on prices isn't something that other ISPs let their customers do!

Helps regulate market prices

Because Toronto Free-Net prices are controlled by the members, TFN acts as a competitive check on the prices of commercial Internet providers: its low prices help keep overall market prices affordable.  Thus, Toronto Free-Net defends all Torontonians, not just TFN members, from gouging.

Continued access even if you switch ISPs

Occasionally, TFN members move out of town or find a short-term bargain, and switch their dialup or high speed DSL access to a competitor.  Members are free to switch to another ISP for their dialup or broadband Internet connection, yet to continue using their TFN webspace and email, at the free of charge level, as their permanent Internet presence.  Their free of charge webspace and email will remain free of advertising and without restrictions on the method of access.

All members also receive dialup Internet access at the free of charge level.  For members who currently use another ISP for their Internet connection, Toronto Free-Net's free of charge dialup is a useful backup when things go wrong with their other broadband or dialup access.

Full old-school features

Toronto Free-Net continues to offer useful features that people want but which even high-priced ISPs have dropped, stranding customers, to focus on more lucrative options.  Because TFN members are the ones who decide on which services are offered, they know that they can depend on TFN to continue providing the services they need.  Examples of "old-fashioned" services include webspace, Usenet, telnet for command-line email access, and text-only (non-PPP, BBS-style) dialup.

Ethical Internet service

Internet service providers are information carriers, like telephone and telegraph providers.  They have an implicit duty to society and to their users, to protect the freedoms of speech and of access to public information, and to safeguard the privacy and security of personal data and of private communications.  For example, users depend on their Internet provider in order to reach information on the web as well as to send email to their correspondents.  It is the ISP's job to provide these communication services and to not interfere.  Toronto Free-Net takes this responsibility seriously.  Some ISPs don't.

[Return to: Choose TFN]

How to use less bandwidth

Commercial ISPs have no motive to spend time and money on teaching cost-saving skills to their customers.  They prefer, and recommend, solutions that increase their profits.  Toronto Free-Net's goals, on the other hand, are furthered by volunteers who want to improve their community.  This causes TFN, as a corporate entity, to focus on member needs rather than on maximizing profit.

For example, textual information gets downloaded much faster than pictures.  The cheapest way to increase the speed at which you can look up some quick facts on the web is to temporarily disable graphics in your web browser — and that's the solution that TFN staff will point out first.  But a commercial ISP will advise you to purchase a higher speed connection rather than teach you how to turn off advertisements which you didn't want in the first place.  This is more costly for you but more profitable for the ISP.

Another problem, faced by users of online services like google's webmail ("gmail"), is that you must be online to access them.  For dialup users, this means staying online longer.  A commercial ISP will encourage you to purchase additional dialup time or to switch to high speed, which is always online.  Again, the ISP profits more, as you buy a more expensive service.  Toronto Free-Net offers webmail too, for the convenience of those users who prefer it.  TFN also welcomes your purchase of high speed or of unlimited dialup!  But TFN staff will also show you how to reduce your dialup time by using an off-line email client, like Thunderbird or Outlook.  We will encourage you to seek the lowest-cost access level that is right for you.

Puts you in-charge of your Internet access

Toronto Free-Net is run by its members.  This means that, at TFN, you get a say in the making of policies, in the choice of services, even in the prices, through your vote at general meetings.  All members, regardless of access level, can make proposals at TFN general meetings and get equal voting rights on decisions made at those meetings.

Also, members have the opportunity to volunteer and, thus, to help shape the organization more directly.  By choosing the TFN projects towards which you direct your volunteer time, you are empowered to share in the development of those features which matter to you.  In the final analysis, you can seek authorization to implement something yourself, and see it done right!

Insider access to information

Toronto Free-Net users have more direct access to inside information because they are voting members.  They can get real answers to questions about the layout of the network on which they depend, about the inner workings of the technologies we use, about underlying costs, causes of system problems, operating procedures, the state and direction of the Internet industry, TFN's finances & future plans, etc.

Some information must be restricted to prevent abuse, to protect competitive advantages and, of course, to safeguard personal information and privacy.  But TFN's culture is extremely open, compared to its commercial competitors.  The monthly meetings of TFN's board of directors are open to all members.  Reports at annual general meetings are very informative also.  TFN's officers and staff are easily reachable and welcoming towards curious members.  Finally, one can gain an insider's knowledge of Toronto Free-Net simply by volunteering.

By comparison, commercial ISPs are very secretive toward their customers.  Even simple questions, intended to help you understand how to better take advantage of their service or even to evaluate the service level for which you are paying, often encounter a brick wall.  Typically, the staff who answer customer calls at commercial ISPs either won't have the answer you seek or will refuse to give you a straight answer.  Ultimately, as you are merely their customer, you simply aren't entitled to some answers.

[Return to: Choose TFN]

Reaches out beyond mainstream users

Toronto Free-Net welcomes all people and all operating systems and equipment, not just the mainstream.  Toronto Free-Net provides a home for those who cannot get Internet access on their own terms from commercial providers.  Barriers come in many forms — financial, technical, social, etc.  TFN helps its members overcome many barriers they may face:

In all these cases, because Toronto Free-Net employs volunteers and because its mission is not-for-profit, it is able to provide appropriate technology, Internet access, and support to all members of society on an equitable basis.

[Return to: Choose TFN]

Builds community

TFN is a focal point for people in communications technology.

Toronto Free-Net provides a space in which technology professionals and hobbyists can play with and learn communication technologies.  They practice their skills and, in the process, they provide dialup and high speed DSL Internet connections, technical support, and education to the community.

More specifically:

TFN's technology infrastructure is a focal point around which all these people meet, find camaraderie and friendship, and help each other learn new things.  The activity is made more meaningful by the fact that they are improving their community Internet provider.


TFN also employs non-technology volunteers.

Much of the work of running a freenet requires little or no knowledge of technology.

Non-technology volunteers at Toronto Free-Net perform diverse tasks, such as process member payments, do TFN's accounting, research suppliers and prices for products used or sold by TFN, answer inquiries from the public, produce advertising materials, monitor CRTC hearings and prepare submissions for them, coordinate work, or just keep the office clean and organized!

(CRTC = the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which regulates the supply of Internet access services in Canada.)

By working with technology-focused volunteers at the TFN office, other volunteers tend to learn more than the average person about the Internet and about computers.  They also improve their people skills, gain confidence, and strengthen their sense of purpose by helping the community.


Members who aren't volunteering can participate too.

Aside from volunteering, there are many ways for members to participate actively in the Toronto Free-Net community and to get to know each other.

Members can register their expertise in a subject, to be contacted by TFN volunteers for advice, on an informal basis.  They can sit on TFN's board of directors or in a committee.  They can also attend board meetings without taking on the responsibilities of a director. 

Members are welcome to drop by the TFN office to use its resources and to spend time with other members who visit the office.

Two annual events draw members out: the Annual General Meeting (AGM) and the summer picnic.

The AGM is a business meeting at which TFN members hear officer's reports and vote on issues.  Also, before and after the meeting, there is time for members to get to know each other socially.

The summer picnic is a purely social gathering.  It is a day-long potluck, held in a public park.  Members bring food to share.  They spend time enjoying each other's company and finding common interests.  Conversation topics are never lacking, from current affairs, to gadgets, to anime.  Of course, a perennial topic is the state of the Internet and what TFN is doing.  The TFN picnic is well liked.  People invariably stay late, well past the official ending time.

Directory of local/non-commercial organizations

TFN's website includes an extensive directory of community organizations and free services in the greater Toronto area.  Other sites have directories too, but TFN is committed to being both free of advertising to the viewers and free of charge to the organizations being listed in the directory.

[Return to: Choose TFN]

Related pages

List of TFN services & prices
How to join TFN & order services

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