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Wikipedia Zero logo
Wikipedia Zero was a project by the Wikimedia Foundation to provide Wikipedia free of charge on mobile phones via zero-rating, particularly in developing markets. The objective of the program was to increase access to free knowledge, in particular without data-usage cost. With 97 operators in over 72 countries, it is estimated that access to Wikipedia was provided to more than 800 million people through this program. The Wikipedia Zero program ended in 2018.
The program was launched in 2012, and won a 2013 South by Southwest Interactive Award for activism. After having received criticism over the years for violating the principle of net neutrality, in February 2018 the Wikimedia Foundation announced the end of the initiative, stating that it would take a new approach on partnerships. Despite providing service to 800 million persons, the project was seen as jeopardized by a lack of growth, and by the declining price of cell phone data.
Promotional video about free access to Wikipedia, featuring a school-class from South Africa and their open letter to telecommunication companies
The Subsecretaria de Telecomunicaciones of Chile ruled that zero-rating services like Wikipedia Zero, Facebook Zero, and Google Free Zone, that subsidize mobile data usage, violate net neutrality laws and had to end the practice by June 1, 2014. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has said, "Whilst we appreciate the intent behind efforts such as Wikipedia Zero, ultimately zero rated services are a dangerous compromise."Accessnow.org has been more critical, saying, "Wikimedia has always been a champion for openaccess to information, but it's crucial to call out zero-rating programs for what they are: Myopic deals that do great damage to the future of the open internet". The Wikimedia Foundation's Gayle Karen Young defended the program to The Washington Post, saying, "We have a complicated relationship to net neutrality. We believe in net neutrality in America", while adding that Wikipedia Zero required a different perspective in other countries: "Partnering with telecom companies in the near term, it blurs the net neutrality line in those areas. It fulfills our overall mission, though, which is providing free knowledge".
Hilary Heuler argues that "for many, zero-rated programs would limit online access to the 'walled gardens' offered by the web heavyweights. For millions of users, Facebook and Wikipedia would be synonymous with 'internet'." In 2015, researchers evaluating how the similar program Facebook Zero shapes information and communications technology use in the developing world found that 11% of Indonesians who said they used Facebook also said they did not use the Internet. 65% of Nigerians, and 61% of Indonesians agree with the statement that "Facebook is the Internet" compared with only 5% in the United States.
An article in Vice magazine notes that the free access via Wikipedia Zero made Wikipedia a preferred way for its users in Bangladesh and elsewhere to share material published under conventional copyright. This caused problems at Wikipedia (where uploading media that is not free-licensed is forbidden). The Vice article is deeply critical of the Wikipedia Zero project, arguing that because "they can't afford access to YouTube and the rest of the internet, Wikipedia has become the internet for lots of Bangladeshis [and] a bunch of more-or-less random editors who happen to want to be the piracy police that dictate the means of access for an entire population of people."