Wikimedia & Orange To Provide Free Wikipedia Access In Africa, Middle East


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Jimmy Wales isn't messing around when it comes to stressing the point that, yes, everybody should have free and available access to information.

In a press release this afternoon, the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that operates Wikipedia, announced that they will be partnering with Orange, of France Telecom, in order to make Wikipedia more easily available to Orange mobile customers throughout Africa and the Middle East. Hailed as the "first partnership of its kind" - that being the world's first mobile and Internet partnership - the two companies will provide more than 70 million Orange customers with mobile access to Wikipedia without incurring any data usage charges.

This new partnership will be gradually launched throughout 2012 across 20 African and Middle Eastern countries where Orange operates, with the first markets launching early in the year. The initiative is part of the Wikimedia Foundation's mobile strategy that aims to reach the billions of people around the world who access the internet solely through mobile devices.

Any customer with an Orange SIM and mobile internet enabled phone will be able to access the Wikipedia site either through their browser or an Orange widget. They can access the Wikipedia encyclopedia services for as many times as they like at no extra charge as long as they stay within Wikipedia’s pages.

Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said, ""Wikipedia is an important service, a public good – and so we want people to be able to access it for free, regardless of what device they're using." She continued, "This partnership with Orange will enable millions of people to read Wikipedia, who previously couldn't. We're thrilled to be Orange's partner in this important endeavor."

Orange posted a video on their website extolling the value of a freely accessibly Wikipedia to their customers that is now viewable on their website.

Marc Rennard, Group Executive Vice President, Africa, Middle-East and Asia at Orange, commented, “In countries where access to information is not always readily available, we are making it simple and easy for our customers to use the world’s most comprehensive online encyclopedia. It is the first partnership of this kind in the world where we are enabling customers to access Wikipedia without incurring any data charges; and shows Orange’s ability, once again, to innovate in Africa and the Middle East, and bring more value to our customers.”

The timing to announce the merger one day ahead of the the one-year anniversary of Egypt's January 25th Revolution (although it continues to go on even today), which could be considered the first domino to fall in the Arab Spring's chain of protests throughout the past year, is peculiar. It may be unintentional, but I'd like to think that this reaffirms Wikimedia and Wales' commitment to providing a worldwide network of free information whenever someone needs it.