Mozilla (Firefox) is putting up $2 million in prize money for two challenges, one of which is to leverage "underused" infrastructure where it says commercial broadband providers aren't supplying affordable or sufficiently high-speed access.
The effort, dubbed the Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society (WINS) Challenges, is in concert with the National Science Foundation.
The Smart Community Networks Challenge is described as seeking to use current infrastructure "like old phone booths" to provide wireless connectivity where "commercial providers don’t supply affordable access" or "a particular community is too isolated" or "the speed and quality of access is too slow."
The other off-the-grid challenge is to "help communities maintain access to critical services (like social networking, maps and messaging) in the immediate aftermath of a disaster."
It offers as an example of an off-the-grid option "a backpack containing a hard drive is wired to a computer, battery and Wi-Fi router. The router provides access, via a Wi-Fi network, to resources on the hard drive like maps and messaging applications."
A smart community option might be "a neighborhood wireless network where the nodes are housed in, and draw power from, disused phone booths or similarly underutilized infrastructure."
In a blog post announcing the challenges, Mozilla executive director Mark Surman positioned the effort as necessary in a world of merging media.
"[T]he underlying network itself is increasingly centralized, relying on infrastructure provided by a tiny handful of companies. We don’t have a failsafe if the infrastructure these companies offer is blocked or goes down," he blogged Tuesday.
Submissions will be accepted starting in June, with design concepts due by October. Winners will be announced soon after and prototypes will be due in May 2018.
Mozilla will also host four "launch" events to promote the challenge: March 25 in Raleigh, N.C.; April 9 in Oakland, Calif.; April 15 in Boulder, Colo.; and April 22 in New York.