The Wikimedia Foundation, through its Wikipedia Zero initiative, is trying to encourage mobile operators to waive the data charges associated with accessing Wikipedia so that anyone with a mobile phone can access the free, crowd-created and –edited, online encyclopaedia. The Foundation has launched an online petition to support the project.
Wikipedia Zero is currently available in 29 countries through 24 operators, many of which have offered the service since 2012. In Africa, this includes Botswana, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Uganda on the Orange network, Kenya and Nigeria via Airtel’s networks, and South Africa and Rwanda on MTN.
While that’s a decent start, the Foundation wants to encourage all mobile operators around the world to follow suit. It would also like to see the restrictions on the service – like the fact that MTN users can only access Wikipedia for free by using the Opera Mini browser on their mobile devices – lifted.
“Our vision is a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge,” the Foundation says on its petition page. “While we currently serve around 500 million people every month, we have a long way to go, and we need your help.”
Though mobile phone penetration globally is enormous, the cost of data still remains prohibitive for many people, particularly those in developing markets.
“You might think that the cost of data is trivial, but it is the single greatest barrier we face to getting everyone access to Wikipedia,” the Foundation says. “Roughly six out of every seven people today have access to a cellular phone, however despite Wikipedia’s free license, the cost of data is so expensive for most people that they simply can’t afford to access Wikipedia.”
The Foundation has also compiled a 20-minute documentary (link – YouTube) to bolster its case that takes a look at the students of Sinenjongo High in Cape Town, whose open-letter video to South Africa’s mobile operators earlier this year prompted MTN to begin offering Wikipedia Zero to its customers, albeit only through the Opera Mini browser.
Interested parties can sign the petition here.