Free data campaign from SA goes global

The Wikimedia Foundation has made a short documentary about a group of South African high school students who pleaded with local mobile networks to offer free access to Wikipedia.

It forms part of a new petition from the foundation for its Wikipedia Zero project, which aims to offer free access to the online, crowdsourced encyclopaedia on mobile phones.

“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 petition states.

According to Wikimedia, roughly 6 out of 7 people today have access to a cellular phone, but the cost of data is so expensive for most people they simply can’t afford to access Wikipedia – despite its free licence.

“That’s why the Wikimedia Foundation has been working with cellular phone providers to waive data charges for accessing Wikipedia,” Wikimedia said.

“This initiative is called Wikipedia Zero.”

The documentary and petition build on a campaign Wikimedia launched last year (October 2013) when it published an open letter from South African high school students to local mobile operators on

Signed by 24 Cape Town students from Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton, the letter encouraged South Africa’s mobile operators to follow in the footsteps of operators in Kenya and Uganda.

Orange Kenya and Orange Uganda have reportedly offered zero-rated access to Wikipedia since August 2012.

Wikimedia Foundation and Airtel Kenya also announced a partnership in October 2013 to trial free Wikipedia access via SMS using technology from SA-based Praekelt Foundation, called Vumi.

Praekelt describes Vumi as an open source USSD and SMS mobile messaging platform offering connectivity in Africa, which serves NGOs, corporations, and entrepreneurs.

Following the publication of the letter at the end of October 2013, MTN responded with a statement saying it was already working on a programme to zero-rate Wikipedia access.

In February 2014, at the height of the #NekNomination craze, MTN released a video announcing it would start offering free Wikipedia access to its customers:

Not mentioned initially was the fine print, which required users to use the MTN-branded Opera Mini browser to access Wikipedia for free.

None of South Africa’s other mobile operators have announced similar plans to offer access to Wikipedia for free.

At the time of publication Wikimedia’s new petition for free access to Wikipedia on mobile phones had been signed by 39 people.

“If you believe that everyone should have equal access to Wikipedia, then please sign this petition to encourage mobile phone carriers to provide free access to Wikipedia on mobile phones,” the Foundation said.

“If you are a mobile carrier, please consider zero-rating access to Wikipedia.”

A 20-minute documentary about the students of Sinenjongo High used in Wikimedia’s petition, is embedded below:

Free MTN Wikipedia access fine print

MTN offers free Wikipedia access

We want free Wikipedia: SA students

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Free data campaign from SA goes global