By Kathy Xu, Contributing Editor

Gary Fowlie, UN Speaking

Gary Fowlie, UN Speaking

Data Center POST had the opportunity to attend the Mozilla Equal Rating Conference, which took place on March 9 at Bathhouse Studios in New York City. At this conference, thought leaders in the technology industry, government, NGOs, law and advocacy, convened to discuss the idea of making the internet more accessible to people all over the world and the current state of affordable access. Speakers included Gary Fowlie, Head of ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations; Alison Gillwald, Executive Director of Research, ICT, Africa; Jeff Jarvis, Professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism; and Mishi Choudhary, Legal Director at Software Freedom Law Center.

Mishi Choudhary, Software Freedom Law Center speaking

Mishi Choudhary, Software Freedom Law Center speaking

During the opening remarks, we learned about Mozilla’s vision of equal rating internet access, which is that internet should be free, open and beneficial to everyone and includes the following criteria:

  1. They are content-agnostic.
  2. They are not subject to gatekeepers.
  3. They do not allow pay-for-play.

Mozilla is getting involved in this conversation because connecting people is important. Their strategy for achieving Equal Rating is bringing in leaders to develop solutions together and being supportive of communities that already exist. There is a power that comes with knowing how to use the internet, which can create change.

Gary Fowlie discussed “Putting ICTs into Sustainable Development Action: The ‘Equal Rating’ Opportunity.” According to Gary, “In order to achieve equal rating internet, it all starts with education, which is the door of sustainability. One point of connectivity can change the world. We have a common destination, so we need to have a common voice.” Gary also voiced the importance of several action areas, including equal access to digital technology in ICT learning skills, empowerment of women as ICT leaders and entrepreneurs, as well as promoting digital literacy and critical thinking skills.

Judge's Panel

Judge’s Panel

The next speaker, Alison Gillwald shared insights about “Internet Use Barriers and User Strategies: Perspectives from Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Rwanda.” Alison tackled questions such as, what is the reason for digital inequality and what is creating these gaps?  The answer is affordability and government. Other barriers include illiteracy, electricity, privacy and surveillance, and gender.

Mishi Choudhary stated, “Internet is the possibility of unlimited interconnection and rich technology connections that can allow us to do services for one another,” and brought up the idea that the internet is not just for consumption. Mishi predicted that the future of the internet will be about privacy and regulation. On the regulatory front, we need to ensure that the next billion who come online will get the same experience.

However, there are several issues to consider about the idea of Equal Rating as there is also a dark side to the internet, which includes bullying, unsolicited photographs, abuse and harmful content, actively violent groups or comments. So the Judges’ Panel tackled the question of how the internet can be regulated, which they said needed to be done in small, incremental steps in order to create a safe space and get rid of certain negative platforms. Innovation that helps solve access to education and encourages more women to be involved with STEM will also help in this effort.

Presentation of Garam Marg Solution for Rural Broadband Equal Rating Innovation Challenge

Presentation of Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband Equal Rating Innovation Challenge

The conference ended with Demo Day, which showcased the five Innovation Challenge Semifinalists of Mozilla’s Equal Rating Innovation Challenge. Each company had truly innovative solutions to provide access to the open Internet to those still living without. The semifinalists included:

Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband – A project that uses Open source low-cost hardware prototype Television White Spectrum to provide affordable access to rural communities in India.

Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI) – A new business model for telecommunications companies to provide free 2G to enable the benefits of the open web to all.

Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi – Project Isizwe will provide free wi-fi for South Africa by connecting brands to an untapped, national audience, specifically low-income communities who otherwise cannot afford connectivity.

Free Networks P2P Cooperative –  A cooperative that enables communities in Brazil to set up networks to gain access to the internet, supporting itself through the cooperative fees and co-creating the knowledge.

Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN) – A telecommunications model that allows the rural areas of South Africa to self-provide affordable communications at a fraction of the cost.

Even if you didn’t attend the conference, you can get involved by watching the video of each presentation and casting your vote for your favorite solution here: https://equalrating.com/vote/.

It was an enlightening and inspiring day at Mozilla Equal Rating Conference, with many important conversations about making the internet accessible to all. In order to do this, one thing we can all do is to ask what role can you play to bring about this change? We all need to continue to work together with ideas and strategies to make this happen, because ultimately, the internet is about connecting humans and each person deserves to have that opportunity, whether rich or poor.

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