Etisalat to offer zero-rated Wikipedia Zero service

Etisalat teamed up with the Wikimedia Foundation to launch Wikipedia Zero across its 19 markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, marking a further foray by the UAE-based mobile operator into zero-rated content.

The operator will gradually roll out the zero-rated service--meaning that access to Wikipedia will incur no mobile data charges--in the coming months. Maroc Telecom, which was acquired by Etisalat from Vivendi in March 2014, has already been offering the service in Morocco since January this year.

Wikipedia Zero was first launched in 2012 with the goal of providing free access to the online encyclopaedia on mobile phones, particularly in developing markets. It is now available through 68 operators in 59 countries and can be accessed by an estimated 400 million mobile subscribers.

Wikipedia said its goal is to "work with every mobile operator on the planet." At this year's Mobile World Congress (MWC) in March, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales called on operators to join the initiative in order to help more people get online by removing the barrier of high data costs.

"Imagine a world where every single person is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge," Wales said, also noting that the current focus is to provide more information in local languages.

Etisalat has already dipped its toes into zero-rated content. In January, for example, the company launched a prepaid promotion that offered free access to Facebook, WhatsApp, BlackBerry Messenger and Twitter.

However, zero rating remains a controversial approach, with some claiming that it violates the principle of net neutrality as it is a form of price discrimination that favours particular applications.

Indeed, Facebook has recently encountered considerable opposition in India to its initiative that offers free access to various online services on mobile phones. The service is now available in 12 countries, with Pakistan the latest market to be added.

Organisations such as Facebook and Wikipedia insist that free content initiatives are essential to enable more people in developing markets to get online using mobile devices. Speaking at MWC, Wales said it's a win-win situation: operators benefit as people are tempted to use more of their services and drive traffic, and users benefit as they gain access to the same online services that are available to everyone globally.

Khalifa Al Shamsi, chief digital services officer at Etisalat Group, also highlighted the growing role of e-education, describing it as "one of the most important technological trends in the developing world."

"The traditional barriers to learning are falling away--affluence, birthplace, and gender no longer determine your access to information. Today, if you're motivated and online, you can access incredible stores of knowledge. Wikipedia Zero is a tool that will enrich lives, open opportunities and pave the way to new futures for countless individuals," Al Shamsi said.

For more:
- see this Etisalat release

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