India’s rural broadband project wins Mozilla’s innovation challenge

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Brussels: A Mumbai-based initiative to offer affordable rural broadband services has won Mozillas Equal Rating Innovation Challenge, the non-profit organisation behind the open source browser Firefox said.

In its bid to both bridge the digital divide and empower unconnected communities, ‘Project Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband’ has created a technology that utilises unused white space on the TV spectrum to backhaul data from village wifi clusters to provide broadband access.

The win entitles Project Gram Marg to $125,000 (Rs 82 lakh) in funding, Mozilla said at an event here on Wednesday.

Mozilla’s Equal Rating Innovation Challenge competition called for initiatives to make affordable internet available to all. The challenge received 100 submissions from 27 countries.

“Mozilla started this initiative because we believe in the power of collaborative solutions to tackle big issues. We wanted to take action and encourage change,” Katharina Borchert, Chief Innovation Officer at Mozilla, said in a blog post.

Spearheaded by Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay (IIT-B) Professor Abhay Karandikar, the Gram Marg project seeks to connect 640,000 villages in rural India. The solution has been rolled out in 25 villages on a pilot basis so far.

The team of academics and field workers leverages what people already have in their homes, and creates rugged receivers and transmitters to connect villages in even the most difficult terrains.

“We are humbled by the judges’ decision and the community votes that choose our solution as the winner. All semifinalists were equally competitive and it was really a challenge to pitch our solution among them,” Karandikar said.

“We will continue to improve our technology solution to make it more efficient. We are also working on a sustainable business model that can enable local village entrepreneurs to deploy and manage access networks,” Karandikar added.

“We hope that our model can be aligned with our Prime Minister’s vision of ‘broadband for all’ under his government’s Digital India programme,” he added.

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