Afri-Fi, a free Wi-Fi project from South Africa, emerges second in Mozilla’s innovation challenge

Mozilla has announced winners of its global Equal Rating Innovation Challenge, a contest which targeted submissions and projects on ways to provide unfettered access to the open internet for anyone across the globe. The contest also required applicants – entrepreneurs, designers, researchers and innovators – to propose creative and scalable ideas for connecting more people to the internet, built on local knowledge and expertise.

The Equal Rating Innovation Challenge supports promising solutions through expert mentorship and funding of US US $250,000 split into three categories – Best Overall (based on scalability), Best Overall Runner-up and Most Novel Solution (based on experiment with a potential high reward).

(TOP: Dr Sarbani Banerjee Belur presents her wining pitch about the Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband in India).

The total prize money of US $250,000 is split as follows – Best Overall (with a key focus on scalability gets US $125,000), Best Overall Runner-up gets US $75,000 while Most Novel Solution goes home with US $30,000.

After a thorough review and evaluation of all the submissions, two FIRE Africa winners all drawn from South Africa are among the winners of Mozilla’s Equal Rating Challenge. The two projects, which have both been selected as runner-ups, are Afri-Fi, the free Public Wi-Fi project, which won a FIRE award as Project Isizwe and Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN), which won a FIRE Award under the name LibreRouter.

Below is the list of winners, starting from the overall, as they were announced at RightsCon Brussels on March 29, 2017:

Overall Winner / Project: Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband

Presenter: Dr Sarbani Banerjee Belur
Team Leader: Prof Abhay Karandikar
Location: Mumbai, India
Details: Open source low-cost hardware prototype utilizing Television White Spectrum to provide affordable access to rural communities.

“We purposefully had a broad call for innovation in this Challenge. We hoped we would find a team with the ingenuity to create a low-cost and scalable solution, the humility to experiment and iterate, and the vision to imagine a way to change people’s lives for the better. Gram Marg delivered fully on all three,” noted Mitchell Baker, executive chair, Mozilla Foundation.

“What impressed me particularly about Gram Marg was their ability to use TV White Space spectrum to radically reduce the cost of connectivity. Also, their technology is open source, which means that it is accessible to anyone anywhere,” commented Nikhil Pahwa, founder, @MEDIANAMA and co-founder, SAVETHEINTERNET.IN

Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi

Runner – up: Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi

Presenter: Tim Genders
Team Leader: Tim Human
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Details: Model to make Project Isizwe financially sustainable by connecting brands to an untapped, national audience, specifically low-income communities who otherwise cannot afford connectivity.

“The Afri-Fi approach towards community building, partnerships, developing local community entrepreneurs and inclusivity, with a goal of connecting some of the most marginalized communities, are all key factors in why they deserve this recognition and are leading the free internet movement in Southern Africa,” noted Marlon Parker, founder, Reconstructed Living Labs.

Free Networks P2P Cooperative

Most Novel Solution: Free Networks P2P Cooperative

Team Leader: Bruno Vianna
Location: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Details: Cooperative that enables communities to set-up networks to get access to the Internet and then supports itself through the cooperative fees, and while co-creating the knowledge and respecting the local cultures.

“The Free Networks P2P Cooperative surprised me with their very simple but highly innovative solution proposal: empowering communities to build their own infrastructure in an affordable and sustainable way. I will closely follow their path forward and can only encourage funders and communities to get in touch and work with Bruno and his amazing team,” stated Rocio Fonseca, Executive Director, Startup Chile.


Finalist: Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN)

Team Leader: Dr Carlos Rey-Moreno
Location: Cape Town, South Africa

Details: Bottom-up telecommunications co-operatives that allows the most disadvantaged rural areas of South Africa to self-provide affordable communications at a fraction of the cost offered by other operators.

Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)

Finalist: Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)

Team Leader: Steve Song
Location: Nova Scotia, Canada

Details: A new business model for telecommunication companies to provide free 2G to enable all the benefits of the open web to all.

Mozilla announced the Equal Rating Challenge in October last year after which the entry submissions phase was open from November 1, 2016 to January 6, 2017. The first round of selections was announced in mid-January 2017 with selected finalists receiving mentorship for their projects before demonstrating their ideas in March 2017 culminating in the selection of winners.


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