A year later, APANA has been forced to face and overcome an entirely new set of challenges. Market forces have in many cases forced us to reevaluate our activities and return to first principles.
In previous years regions had grown through the promotion of the large, and often largely autonomous public access Internet site. In the year just gone, regions have only grown or staved off the challenge of an extremely competitive market through a return to, or focus on, the fundamental reason APANA exists, the coordination of network facilities for the use and enjoyment by its members.
Our membership has dropped by roughly a quarter in a twelve month period. However all indications are that the group of members who have always fueled APANA's success, the motivated, active members, has grown. We are approaching the end of the watershed of largely disinterested dial up users and yet retain a healthy membership. This should be extremely encouraging.
Shane Alderton spoke of a lack of enthusiasm threatening APANA's future in last year's President's report. At a regional level a concerted effort has been made to foster enthusiasm through a promotion of the cooperative spirit that drives our group. Regular meetings, both formal and informal, working groups formed around the regional committees, and a focus on participation and membership rather than services have ensured that newly active members arrive to take over the roles of those members who have reached the end of the peak of their active participation. This is a great credit to our regions.
However, of serious concern is the continuing general lack of enthusiasm of the general membership in APANA at a national level. The MC during the past year has been one of fluctuating membership but has maintained a consistently professional approach to handling the ongoing business of APANA as a whole. The increasing number of industry level issues which have threatened impact on APANA's affairs require a dedicated and motivated national committee which is well supported by the regions and membership whose interests it serves.
I can honestly say that a modest investment of time and energy into the APANA Management Committee is an inevitably rewarding experience. The potential for accomplishment at the national level is immense and is probably the most exciting aspect of participation. Competent management will take care of the issues that are forced upon us, but active enthusiastic direction can take APANA to new and exciting levels. Each member needs to consider what he or she can do to help APANA reach them.
Everyone involved in APANA over the last year deserves the thanks of the membership, of course. I would like however to take the opportunity to thank Greg Patten on behalf of the Management Committee and the membership. Greg's efforts, especially in the construction and maintenance of our membership database have gone far above and beyond the call of duty.
In a time of uncertainty, especially with regards to the costs of network connections, the growth of APANA remains as viable today as when it first started. All that is required is the desire of its members to fund the activities they are interested in pursuing.
The opportunities are vast and our future is exciting. If we are active in pursuing our goals the coming year should be one of unprecedented development and growth.
Three areas bear reporting upon.
Region 1996 1997 Change ----------------------------------------------------- ACT 178 192 + 14 Brisbane 40 54 + 14 Melbourne 473 273 -200 Northern Territory 30 - - 30 Perth 63 71 + 8 South Australia 121 119 - 2 Sydney 383 258 -125 Hobart/other 6 3 - 3 ------------------------------------------------------ Total 1294 970 -324In addition there are a total of 46 memberships pending.
Unfortunately membership was in decline for most of the year. It now seems to be picking up.
The rapid decline experienced by the Northern Territory Region (it ceased to exist in early 1997) can be attributed to the existing APANA site moving on. No new APANA site has taken its place.
In Melbourne, and to a lesser extent Sydney, the membership loss can be directly attributed to large public access sites leaving APANA and taking most of the members using the sites with them.
Fortunately the trend appears to have reversed as many so called cheap providers go out of business through an inability to pay for their connections. We can only watch events unfold with interest.
A downside to these cheap providers and the popularisation of the Internet is that bulk connection fees are on the increase and we ourselves might have to review our fee structures to avoid following in our commercial counterparts steps.
Although the database is very much improved, a few glitches in the way our primary mail server worked resulted in some problems with recent mail outs. Hopefully these are now ironed out. Apologies to those members who did not receive their notices regarding the Annual General Meeting on time as a result.
As part of ensuring that APANA is operating within the law in all Australian jurisdictions, the obtaining of an Australian Registered Business Number is being undertaken.
Finally, I would like to thank those members who have given me assistance in the short time I have been your Secretary.
If the next 2 years are as good to us as the last 2 then Telstra's Big Pond better start getting nervous!
Membership Database indicates we have 54 financial members. The 13 not accounted for consist of 7 APANA members using PA sites (e.g., quux, unicorn), 5 individuals who have paid the $70.00 membership fee and left us, and one user who has been transferred from SA.
A recent upturn in all categories of membership has been happily noted.
We therefore prefer to avoid unnecessary expenditure until our Internet access arrangements have been finalised for the period beyond September, when our current subscription expires. Some increase in this cost is likely, for which we have already budgeted.
Beyond that, our balance should recover adequately over the next twelve months at current fee levels, as long as we can at least retain our existing membership base, and there are no further major unforeseen demands. Growth in membership during that time would help rebuild our normal reserve more quickly.
Similarly, we are gradually establishing introductory documentation for new members to help them get connected, containing tutorial assistance and pointers to other resources.
We will need to finalise some details of policy (e.g. to clarify the question of liability for illegal material), and encourage any members who are still obtaining news individually over our main link to use the regional news server wherever possible.
From an administrative viewpoint, it has been a very interesting year indeed.
We turned over a number of positions within the region, including that of Regional Co-ordinator. We would like to thank our previous Regional Co-ordinator, Stephen Bruce, who held this position since the inception of the Region in Oct 1994 until Nov 1996. Stephen was also the APANA Public Officer.
We welcomed our new Regional Co-ordinator, Benno Rentinck.
It is worth noting that we have also changed all of:
A number of things drove this process:
All of the above contributed to the realisation that it was not just the fees that needed revising, but also the fee-structure. The most compelling, though, was the introduction of volume-based charges by our upstream provided. Without some means of transferring these costs on to members, we could not afford our current bandwidth.
Much debate was had on this matter, and many long meetings were held. Finally, it was decided that the best way to be fair to all members was to eliminate or minimise the membership fee for ordinary dial-up members.
There were several reasons for doing this:
To this end, Melbourne asked the APANA Management Committee to rule that SLIP/PPP be deemed "acceptable use" of the network by non-members, so long as they were connecting though a member's site, and that the member be responsible for their behaviour as regards to the AUP.
The MC decided not to support this, so we went to the next best option, which was to minimise the membership fee. Since it was still our objective to remove the distinction between SLIP and tty users, we also made membership compulsory for all dial-up users.
Although our original reasons for doing this were mostly a matter of economics, I think this outcome has had a very positive side-effect:
For the first time in living history, APANA Membership is NOT paying for a network connection. By removing the IP-charges from the membership fee altogether, we can for the first time say that $20 is for membership ONLY.
I find this profoundly significant at a time when many people are questioning the economic viability of getting a network connection through the Melbourne Hub. Cheaper, and arguably better, connections now exist, and more are likely to appear. The Melbourne Region is now well placed to accept the reality of this without losing members.
All in all, the last year has been a year of decline for the Melbourne Region, in terms of membership, number of permanent-IP sites, and number of Public Access sites. However, much of the uncertainty has been brought upon us by spiraling costs from our upstream provider. Another way of dealing with spiraling upstream-ISP costs is to change our ISP, and we are in the process of doing just this.
When all is said and done, I think it's fair to say that we'll still be here when the dust has settled.
We have also had a very reliably system, with very little unplanned downtime, and have continually invested in upgrading our equipment, to improve its reliability and performance. New hard disk, extra ram, and upgraded software have all kept the standard high.Which leads me on to thank all of the people who have worked so well on supporting the system here in SA. We have a technical group, separate from the Regional Committee, and they have done an excellent job in their respective areas in looking after the system and keeping things working well. There are too many to name, but we all know who they are.
The separation of areas of technical responsibility (such as webmaster, news, uucp, and dns personnel) plus the allocation of an "admin dude" to each new member has shared the workload and has worked well. It's an approach we will continue to use.
Also I'd like to thank my Regional Committee. They have been supportive, diligent and effective. My job as Regional Coordinator has been made very easy as a result of their efforts.
The future for SA looks pretty bright. We've really grown by word of mouth, and haven't had to work hard to obtain members. A lot of discussion has been held over our optimum size - I'd suggest that our current membership is pretty close to that now, giving us enough income to be viable without an excessive work load.
So, all in all, I think the SA region will continue to thrive and improve.
Towards the end of the year, we had a Special Regional Meeting to discuss a number of issues at the time. One of them was the Hub move to Sydney City, and Shane Alderton's resignation from the Committee. Rebecca Richards volunteered and was voted into the Committee as an Ordinary Member and, in October, was voted into the position of Regional Coordinator. Her first act was to hold regular SRC meetings, and have them minuted and posted to the MC and members. Justine Humphrys was also voted in as Ordinary Member at the ARM. She continues to provide suggestions and ideas, and is a valuable member, representing the views of PA sites on the Committee. Sean McNamara has taken on the role of Deputy RC, and is successfully managing the information role in Sydney. He has successfully updated the database to get rid of the old Triode members, which has plagued the Region for some time.
There have been a number of members who have assisted, and volunteered their valuable time to help maintain the Region's network and administering the Hub.
The Hub relocation was completed late last year and, surprisingly, settled down quite quickly. A lot of work was put in by Matthew Geier and Graham Broadbridge in reconfiguring and administering the new Hub site.
Sadly, Matthew resigned his position on the Committee. Graham Broadbridge was nominated, and accepted the position of Ordinary Member. He has continued to provide valuable support both to the Hub configuration, and to the Committee in providing advice.The region saw an increase in the number of permasites being connected, but has experienced a downturn in membership numbers. Connect.Com introduced volume charging, and the region has been hit with its first few accounts. As a means of controlling the potential spiraling costs, the Committee introduced a number of custom made statistical scripts to keep track of and plan for the costs. We are introducing policies to assist in this regard.
The major event of the year has been the withdrawal of Shadow as a PA site, with that site going commercial. A number of members on that site elected to remain with APANA, with the rest remaining with Shadow in its new entity.
We now look forward to new times, in managing the costs of today's Internet, and working on improving the network. There is a push back towards APANA Sydney being a hobbyists' network from the perceived role of providing ISP-type services.
The RC, in exploring all its available options suggested to the Membership to co-locate with an alternative provider. A vote was conducted, and unanimously supported the alternate provider proposal.
In acting on the vote, the RC has opened up dialogue with several of Perth's largest Service Providers. From this dialogue, the region has chosen the best package available, and is now working to complete co-location by mid August.
The region has been working steadily towards the goal of purchasing new, or upgrading the existing equipment. The RC has decided to explore the former option and work towards a brand new Odyssey that is solely owned by the Membership and not any one (or group of) individual.
Memberships this year have been static, with the addition of a large number of Non-profit Organisations joining WA. WA's goal is to increase its Membership to at least 120 throughout the 1997/1998 year - a goal that is well and truly attainable.