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SA semi-finalists in equal innovation challenge

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Two South African entries have made it to the last 5 of a global innovation challenge aimed at expanding affordable Internet access.

Two South African entrants, as well as an ex-South African, have made it to the semi-finals of the  Equal Rating Innovation Challenge, launched by Mozilla in October 2016.

Mozilla called on entrepreneurs, designers, researchers, and innovators all over the world to propose novel and scalable solutions to provide affordable access to the full diversity of the open Internet.

“Reflecting the truly global character of this challenge, we received over 100 submission from 27 countries around the world,” the organisation said this week. “Five teams made it to the semi-final and they have been receiving expert mentorship to hone their projects.”

The teams included two from South Africa, as well as a former South African-based Internet activist, indicating a massive passion among South Africans to bring Internet access to all.

The South African finalists are Tim Genders of Afri-Fi Free Public WiFi and Carlos Rey-Moreno of Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks. They are joined by Steve Song, now living in Canada, but well-known among South Africans for his work here, representing Freemium Mobile Internet.

The semi-finalists will pitch their ideas at an event to be live-streamed on equalrating.com on 9 March from 9am to 6.30pm. Mozilla will convene leaders in industry, government, NGOs, and advocacy at the Equal Rating Conference to discuss and debate the current state of global affordable Internet access.

Speakers include

  • Mitchell Baker Executive – Chairwoman, Mozilla Foundation
  • Katharina Borchert – Chief Innovation Officer, Mozilla Corporation
  • Rocio Fonseca – Executive Director, Start-Up Chile
  • Gary Fowlie – Head, ITU Liaison Office to the United Nations
  • Jeremy Balkin – Head of Innovation, HSBC
  • Omobola Johnson – Former Minister of Communication Technology, Nigeria
  • Nikhil Pahwa – Co-founder, savetheinternet.in
  • Marlon Parker – Founder, Reconstructed Living Labs

Following morning sessions of keynotes and lighting talks, a key part of the program will be the “Demo Day”: Mozilla has invited the semifinalist teams from South Africa, Brazil, Canada and India to come to New York and live-pitch their advanced solutions to an expert panel of judges.

Demo Day: Semifinalist pitches

  • Tim Genders (South Africa) presents Afri-Fi: Free Public WiFi
  • Carlos Rey-Moreno (South Africa) presents Zenzeleni “Do it for yourselves” Networks (ZN)
  • Steve Song (Canada) presents Freemium Mobile Internet (FMI)
  • Bruno Vianna (Brazil) presents Free Networks P2P Cooperative
  • Dr Sarbani Banerjee Belur (India) presents Gram Marg Solution for Rural Broadband

This event will not only be an opportunity to gather different perspectives from research, policy, advocacy and venture capital on universal Internet access. It will also be a chance to get to know the semifinalist teams, hear their story, learn from their local expertise and get caught by their motivation to help and improve the conditions of their communities.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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