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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Wikimedia's #zerowashing - the reality is less than the hype

Wikimedia is in general a "good thing" - or at least the Wikipedia project is, even if the foundation's staff has grown from 3 to 280 salaried employees. But Wikipedia has been seized upon by #FreeBasics to argue for zero rating in general being good - a much less clear prospect given it is supping with Facebook, without a long spoon. As will be well known to readers of this blog, I favour non-exclusive zero rating as a short-term exception to net neutrality.
Wikimedia "works to expand free and open access to knowledge everywhere, including areas where affordable access to the internet is a fundamental barrier" which means zero rating where otherwise access is very expensive and very slow So it is the no-graphics versions that it agrees to zero rate with local telecoms operators - either mobile or zero sites. It claimed in February 2016 that as a result "more than 600 million people in 64 countries can read, edit, and contribute to Wikipedia through Wikipedia Zero partnerships".
What does that mean in practice for the global zero rating story?
There are 65 Wikimedia agreements in place, across a rather smaller number of countries. 41 are with Caribbean operators Digicel and Flow, in notoriously expensive data nations. I presume the expired agreements are not included - such as with Saudi, India, Russia. Orange is also not included, though trumpeted in 2012.
Of the 24 agreements in larger nations, only 6 were made in 2016-17 - so this is now a historic interest. The single 2017 name that jumps out is Nigeria - why is a nation of 200m people in need of a specific agreement with a specific operator? Answers please! The same very much applies to Thailand, though signed in the first rush in 2012.
Chile famously banned #zerorating from 2012 - though Wikimedia claims it received positive answers to excepting Wikipedia in 2014 (not confirmed by government). It is also not in the Table.
Other nations are either very under-developed in mobile data (Mongolia, Myanmar, East Timor), some due to allied bombing (Afghanistan, Iraq), historically under-developed EU (Serbia, Moldova, Montenegro, Kosovo, the former pair via Telenor), or very poor indeed (several Stans).
But some are blatantly anti-competitive - 2 in Morocco, 2 in Angola, 1 in Tunisia,  Ghana, Jordan, Peru, Rwanda, some of these countries with extreme net neutrality breaches.
Of course, that's only a small part of the story - even with Nigeria, Thailand and those blatant examples, the number of subscribers is much less than the 600m
claimed. The real story lies in FreeBasics and its deals in everywhere except India - especially in Latin America and Africa. More research into the numbers needed, please!

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