There are more than 70 million Orange customers across Africa and the Middle East, but only about 10 million are able to access the web from their handsets. That gap may be narrowing, though, now that the provider has decided to offer free mobile access to Wikipedia for users throughout the region. Under the program, users with an Orange SIM card and a web-enabled phone will be able to access the site as many times as they want, without incurring any data charges. Heralding the partnership as the first of its kind, Orange says its new initiative should make it easier for emerging market consumers to access the online encyclopedia, which Wikimedia Foundation director Sue Gardner described as a "public good." The offer is slated to roll out across 20 countries in Africa and the Middle East, beginning early this year. Find more details in the press release, after the break.
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Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation Partner to offer Wikipedia in Africa and the Middle East at no Extra Cost

PARIS, January 24, 2012 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- In the first partnership of its kind, Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation will provide more than 70 million Orange customers in Africa and the Middle East (AMEA) with mobile access to Wikipedia - without incurring data usage charges

Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation today announced a major partnership designed to make knowledge more easily available to Orange mobile customers throughout Africa and the Middle East. In the first partnership of its kind for Wikipedia, Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation will provide customers in both remote and urban areas of AMEA with access to Wikipedia.

In 2009, Orange and the Wikimedia Foundation formed the world's first mobile and Internet partnership to expand the reach of Wikimedia's projects through channels on Orange mobile and web portals in Europe.

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 encyclopaedia services for as many times as they like at no extra charge as long as they stay within Wikipedia's pages.

"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," said Sue Gardner, Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation. "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 endeavour."

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 encyclopaedia. 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."

Stephanie Hospital, Executive Vice President, Orange Audience & Advertising division, commented: "Since we first partnered with the Wikimedia Foundation two years ago, we have remained committed to helping them spread knowledge to as many people in the world as possible. We're proud to once again be the Wikimedia Foundation's first partner in Africa and the Middle East."