Wikipedia Zero: free access to Wikipedia on your mobile phone

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014 in Blog | No Comments

Volunteer Wikipedians around the world work hard to compile the sum of all human knowledge, to make it freely available to every single person on the planet. For many readers in Africa, the primary (and often only) access to the internet is via mobile. However, mobile data costs are a significant barrier to internet usage. The Wikimedia Foundation (the non profit organisation operating Wikipedia) created the “Wikipedia Zero” program so that everyone can access all the free knowledge on Wikipedia, even if they can’t afford the mobile data charges. Wikipedia Zero is a free browsing service that allows users to surf Wikipedia pages without incurring data charges. The name refers to the zero cost of using the service.

How does Wikipedia Zero work ? Wikipedia Zero itself is not a separate product from the core Wikipedia mobile site. Implementing Wikipedia Zero is simple. The operator “zero-rates” access to Wikimedia sites in their billing system, so their subscribers will not incur data charges while accessing Wikipedia on the mobile web or apps. Wikimedia recognizes the user is on that operator’s network and serves a banner on the top of the page indicating free data courtesy of their mobile operator. When the user leaves the Wikimedia sites, they see a warning message and are asked to confirm, so there is no confusion or risk of surprise charges.

Which operators propose Wikipedia Zero ? The first operator to launch Wikipedia Zero service was Orange en January 2012. It meant to provide customers in both remote and urban areas throughout Africa and Middle East with access to Wikipedia. Since then, several operators propose Wikipedia Zero services, such as Telenor, STC, Vimpelcom, Axiata, or Aircel.

Which countries are covered in Africa ? Wikipedia Zero has been launched world wide in about 30 countries. Amongst those, several African countries are covered. This is the case for example of Uganda, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Niger, Botswana, or South Africa. Check out coverage on this page (check if your country is covered and if it is, with which carrier) : https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Mobile_partnerships

What if your country is not covered by Wikipedia Zero ? Do not lose hope. Wikimedia Foundation is piling up great partnerships. New agreements are signed every couple of months so your country might just be next ! A group of grade 11 learners at Sinenjongo High School, Joe Slovo Park, Cape Town was full of hope and did not want to just wait passively. They lead the charge for free cellphone access to Wikipedia in South Africa. In an open letter  published on Facebook, they encouraged cellphone carriers to waive data charges for accessing Wikipedia so they can do their homework. In May 2013, filmmaker Charlene Music and Victor Grigas asked them to read their open letter on camera. Their request was granted and they now enjoy free access to Wikipedia !

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