On the 17th of January 2016, RLabs had the privilege of hosting Mozilla and their Equal Rating Innovation Challenge. The challenge sought to find innovative ways of solving the internet access crisis still plaguing many people around the world. Start-ups were challenged to come up with various proposals as to what their solution to this crisis would be. The atmosphere was filled with talks of ideas and networking. A language all too common at these sort of events.

The event started off with a man by the name of Eric Coetzee speaking about how the internet changed his life. “After my mother died, I realised how hard life could be and how easy I had it. I was living in darkness and the internet showed me the light. It gave me so much confidence. Suddenly I had all this knowledge at my fingertips. Any question I had could easily be solved, by the millions of other people who experienced my problem. I discovered that people would want to view my LinkedIn profile. These realisations showed me just how disadvantaged the people in my own community really were. If the internet could change my life. I mean, I was able to complete matric in 6 Months with the help of YouTube. What could it do for the rest of society? I then, dedicated my time to creating free CV’s for anyone in need. I also taught them how to search for jobs online. Now I have a business called INETWIZ, which allows me to continue freeing people from the darkness I was in. “

The panel discussion featured Marlon Parker – Founder of RLabs and Katharina Borchert – Chief Innovation Officer at Mozilla, which was led by Jochai Ben-Avie – Senior Global Policy Manager at Mozilla. A lot of interesting points were raised during the panel discussion: Internet gives you hope and change through choice; The divide is not just digital it’s social as well; People should have unrestricted access to the entire internet.

Cost is a big access barrier, but the opportunities outway the cons. The internet allows people access to education. It’s enables writers and artists to get locally relevant content out there with no publication restrictions. It empowers women and gives them freedom which in turn gets ploughed back into the communities. It also promotes efficiency, as people can purchase goods online. Saving them time and in some cases money.

Chenai Chair – Researcher at Research ICT Africa then joined the panel and spoke about even greater concerns discovered during her research. Young people in peri-urban areas have to travel long distances just to be connected. Another issue faced is network congestion. So many people trying to make use of the same hotspot that it becomes a hassle in itself. In some rural areas electricity is a barrier as people have to charge their phones at a friend’s home. These issues need to be addressed because the internet is no longer a luxury for the privileged, it is a source of independence, knowledge and freedom for all. We are looking forward to seeing just what the idea makes the cut.

Overall the event was a great success. The semi finalist are:

  1. Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband
  2. Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)
  3. Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi
  4. Free Networks P2P Cooperative
  5. Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN)
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