Mozilla: This $2M is yours if you can 'decentralize' the web

It's not a "Silicon Valley" plot line. The Firefox maker and the National Science Foundation are aiming for a free and accessible internet for everyone.

Alfred Ng Senior Reporter / CNET News
Alfred Ng was a senior reporter for CNET News. He was raised in Brooklyn and previously worked on the New York Daily News's social media and breaking news teams.
Alfred Ng
2 min read

The internet goes this way. And that way. And over there, too.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Mozilla and the National Science Foundation want a new internet. And it should be free and accessible for everybody. 

They'll pay $2 million for it.

On Wednesday, the two organizations issued a call to action for "big ideas that decentralize the web" as part of the "Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society" challenges. The challenges include getting the internet to communities off the grid, with proposals like a backpack with a computer and Wi-Fi router inside.

The internet was born decentralized, actually, and it remains a family of networks, with traffic distributed over many routes. That Netflix film you're streaming gets broken into lots of little packets that are reassembled on your end for a (generally) smooth viewing.

But still, the web reaches only so far in some places, or not at all to others. And there are pinch points -- individual companies that route such a heavy flow of traffic that a single incident can mean a widespread outage.

Solving the access problem may seem like a fantasy. It's even a major plot in the latest season of HBO's comedy "Silicon Valley." Richard Hendricks, the stumbling genius founder of Pied Piper on the show, played by Thomas Middleditch, proposes using every phone on the planet to create a new internet.

About 34 million people in the US don't have access to the internet, and even that pales in comparison to the digital divide in the rest of the world. Globally, 4.4 billion people don't have internet access -- more than half of the world's population.

Infrastructure is the largest obstacle, and that's provoked some crazy-seeming projects. Just ask Facebook and Google about their plans for, respectively, a giant Wi-Fi drone and internet-beaming balloons.

Mozilla hopes its new push will lead to a more accessible internet for everyone.

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