Africa: Wikipedia Expands Free Access in Developing Countries

The Wikimedia Foundation is on the quest to expand its content and access to it for users in developing nations.

As part of its 'Wikipedia Zero' initiative the foundation is trying to make mobile access to Wikipedia free of internet data charges and to develop content in local languages.

"We started Wikipedia Zero because we [perceived] the trend that Wikipedia usage is shifting to mobiles, and [for it to] grow and expand in developing countries, we needed to [do more to] support the service on mobile," says Carolynne Schloeder, director of mobile programs at the Wikimedia Foundation.

The foundation is partnering with mobile phone operators in developing countries to enable free internet access to Wikipedia. When a user accesses Wikipedia through an operator that has agreed to provide free usage, a message would appear to confirm that the page is free. When the user clicks an external link that may carry a cost to visit a warning message would show up.

The Wikipedia Zero initiative made its first deal to provide free access to mobile users in selected countries of Africa and the Middle East with telecom company Orange in 2012.

Another telecom company, MTN Group, signed a deal last month with Wikipedia Zero to provide access to the site in South Africa. The move came after school students in Cape Town wrote an open letter to mobile operators in the country asking them to introduce the scheme.

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