Angola’s internet space is pretty costly. With internet costs riding as high as $2.50 for 50mb of mobile data; where the median Angolan salary is $720 annually, most citizens simply cannot afford to pay for adequate access. In 2014, Wikimedia stepped in to partner with Angolan telecom provider Unitel to offer Wikipedia Zero to all of it’s customers.
Together they introduced Wikipedia Zero which basically ‘zero rates’ Wikipedia and other of its properties on mobile phones. The consumers using Unitel do not have to pay for any data usage as long as said data usage is associated with a Wikimedia domain. Facebook also offered its Free Basics program in the Southern African country and Angolans therefore had access to a closed in internet experience comprising either Facebook or Wikipedia and it’s affiliates.
For all of us who enjoy a lot more from the internet, inclusive of downloads, top-notch news sites, gamer boards and on and on, it’s not so surprising that despite being a start, that kind of access just wasn’t enough for some Angolans. The innovation that followed gives credence to the saying that; “necessity is the mother of invention”. Being careful not to generalize, some Angolans, began hiding pirated movies and music in Wikipedia articles and linked to them on closed Facebook groups, effectively creating a completely clandestine, but more importantly free file sharing network.
The creativity of their solution to further opening up the internet space is almost ingenious enough to make one forget that the activity is illegal. That reality is however difficult to ignore once you get over the novelty of the idea; at least it is impossible to ignore for Facebook and the Wikimedia Foundation who are still unsure of what to do about the situation.
It’s left to see the conclusions that Wikimedia will eventually reach to best handle this issue. There seems not to be much else that can be done besides restricting access to Wikipedia pages by Angolans seeking to edit the pages or limiting the sizes of files that can be uploaded to the pages. Either of those solutions would however detract from Wikipedia’s passion to provide information to all and sundry and is therefore, not a likely option.