Wikipedia Zero Reaches South Africa

South Africa, sometimes referred to as ZA, now enjoys Wikipedia Zero powered by MTN. Wikipedia Zero is a project which allows mobile phone users using the MTN network to access content and articles on Wikipedia for free.

Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia for doing research and study, improved and authored by users across the world. Its a collaborative online platform, inviting various people of varying backgrounds to share knowledge. Wikipedia is the only online encyclopedia reaching millions of users in over 100 different languages, having English Wikipedia as the most widely used.

MTN (Mobile Telecommunication Network) is a giant mobile telecommunications company with coverage almost all over Africa.

Wikipedia Zero is an initiative of the Wikimedia Foundation to enable mobile access to Wikipedia free of data charges in developing countries. The objective of the program is to reduce barriers to accessing free knowledge—one of the largest barriers being cost of data usage. The Wikimedia Foundation want to enable access to free knowledge for every single person on the planet. For many readers in developing countries, their primary (and often only) access to the internet is via mobile.

MTN, introducing the Wikipedia Zero program in South Africa is actually a response to the letter (which evolved into a video) the class of Sinenjongo High School in Cape Town, South Africa wrote an open letter on Facebook requesting free access to Wikipedia on their cellphones so that they can do their homework. These kids do not have a library at their school, and do not have internet access at home. The only books they have are the ones they are issued at school, so they have very limited access to information.

Thus, they wrote the letter with the aim that a telecommunications company in South Africa will hear their plea, and respond accordingly. Thankfully, MTN came to the rescue, becoming the first telecom in South Africa to bring the Wikipedia Zero program into the country.

The benefits to the open public and students especially are immense with MTN joining the information-sharing train. However, according to the Wikipedia Zero program documentation,

The benefits to users and the Wikimedia movement are clear. For supporting the mission, and undertaking the costs associated with deployment and data, the partner operator can also realize a number of very practical benefits. The first of which is the positive marketing and PR benefit of supporting the program, and the opportunity of offering a unique and distinct service to new and potential customers. Data shows that 28% of existing readers would be more likely to buy services from an operator that provided Wikipedia Zero. Finally, by making it free and easy to access Wikipedia, a new generation of customers will be introduced to the mobile web for the first time—and, for many, will be seeing the true utility of it by learning to navigate Wikipedia.

Hopefully, such an initiative, taken on by MTN will be replicated by other telecommunication networks in Africa. And we believe MTN will expand the Wikipedia Zero program for other african countries they operate in such as Ghana.

To access Wikipedia for free, a user will have to be browsing the Wikipedia website using a Opera Mini browser. Gradually and hopefully, we believe MTN will make access much more general by allowing other mobile phone users browsing not using the Opera Mini browser, to enjoy similar benefits of the Wikipedia Zero.

Learn more about the Wikipedia Zero Program.

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