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The Wikimedia Foundation is working to make knowledge freely available to every person in the world, but for many potential readers in developing countries, the only way to access the Internet is by paying for data on a mobile phone. Cost is a barrier that prevents data usage and makes access to a vast repository of knowledge like Wikipedia impossible. In some developing countries, the poorest fifth of the population already spends over 20 percent of their income on mobile phone services [1]. We don’t want people sacrificing their basic human needs to spend money on data, so we decided to do something about it.

Today we are proud to announce [2] a significant step in breaking down barriers to free knowledge: the Wikimedia Foundation and Orange are partnering to offer access to Wikipedia for Orange mobile customers free of charge. Orange has committed to provide this service in twenty countries across Africa and the Middle East, for three years, and has included access to all of Wikipedia’s enormous store of images. We have worked with Orange over the last few years and they have really come to understand the value of our mission. Thanks to their leadership, we will reach tens of millions of people that wouldn’t otherwise have access to Wikipedia — and all for free.

Over the past year, we’ve been urging mobile operators around the world to consider waiving data charges to access Wikipedia, even when we didn’t have the internal capacity to support such an endeavor. Despite not having a full-time mobile developer on staff until eight months ago, we operated in the mode of “if we build it, they will come.” I’ve focused our mobile team to help in developing countries, as we’ve fostered negotiations with operator partners.  And over the last six months we’ve grown our mobile team to six people, with additional contractors (and more hires on the way). Many people on our mobile team have been critical to making this happen including Amit Kapoor, Patrick Reilly, Phil Chang and Tomasz Finc, with special help from tech ops including CT Woo and Asher Feldman – and dozens of volunteers from around the world.

The Orange rollout will begin over the next several months, starting in Tunisia and the Ivory Coast, with four to six more countries including Mauritius and Cameroon and others shortly after.  The first countries will require a lot of testing and if you’re an Orange customer in one of the regions where the rollouts are happening, we’d love your comments. You can read more about this partnership via our Q&A [3]. We’ll keep you updated on our progress in future blog posts.

Orange has helped us get one step closer to making it possible to give everyone free access to the sum of all knowledge. We sincerely thank them for that. This is a really important precedent. Now we need more operators around the world to join in offering Wikipedia to their customers free of data charges. The movement for free mobile for Wikipedia has just begun.

Kul Takanao Wadhwa
Head of Mobile