In yet another twist in the winding Net neutrality battle, the FCC recently announced it plans to recraft rules to preserve open access to the Internet. So it seems now is as good a time as any to look at how to strengthen the free and open web — which is precisely the aim of the latest Knight News Challenge.knight_logo

“The Internet has become an essential resource for artistic expression, news, economic growth, education and human interaction. How can we make it stronger?” Knight’s John Bracken and Chris Sopher wrote in a blog post announcing the challenge. Those who can answer the question will have a shot at receiving a portion of $2.75 million, which includes $250,000 from Ford Foundation. Knight is teaming up with Ford Foundation and Mozilla for the challenge.

The last round of the News Challenge focused on health data and included projects from youth counseling via text messaging to chemical analysis tools and connecting communities with local health services. Seven winners received a share of the $2.2 million total in grants in that round.

Building a Better Internet

This latest challenge is essentially a call for innovators to submit ideas to make the Internet better. Knight said it has made the challenge even more open than others in the past. “We don’t have specific projects in mind that we’re hoping to see in response to our question. Instead, we want this challenge to attract a range of approaches,” according to the challenge brief. In other words, not just technologies, but also ideas having to do with journalism, research and education are fair game.

The Knight Foundation launched the first Knight News Challenge in 2006 to spur “innovative ideas that develop platforms, tools and services to inform and transform community news, conversations and information distribution and visualization.” Innovation is still at the core of the contest, but it’s grown up a lot since then. What started out then as an effort to promote media innovation has turned into Knight’s most prominent example of how philanthropy can potentially change the face of an industry — in this case, giving a push to innovators who can hopefully pave a path for the future of the Internet.

“As an essential platform for free expression and learning, the Internet plays a vital role in building more informed communities and a stronger democracy,” Michael Maness, Knight Foundation’s vice president of journalism and media innovation, said in a statement. “We want to discover projects that foster the Internet as an open, equitable space for news and information, while reinforcing its potential as a driver of innovation and new ideas.”

The deadline for applicants is March 18. The winners will be revealed at the MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference in June. You’ll be able to read more about them here on Idea Lab.

Full Disclosure: Knight is a funder of this site, Idea Lab, as well as sister site MediaShift.

Desiree Everts is the associate editor for Idea Lab and PBS MediaShift. She’s dabbled in digital media for the past decade including stints at CNET News and Wired magazine.