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Wikipedia now totally free to mobile users in the Middle East

People in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Kuwait can access the online encyclopedia over a mobile network without triggering any data charges.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

A full 25 million mobile users in the Middle East can now use Wikipedia without worrying about data charges.

The Wikimedia Foundation and Saudi Telecom (STC) have teamed up to offer the free access through a program known as Wikipedia Zero. The goal behind this initiative is to help people in developing countries more easily get information through Wikipedia. Many users in these countries surf the Internet via mobile devices, so the Wikimedia Foundation tries to work with local carriers to eliminate data charges and other obstacles.

The foundation has given high priority to Arabic-language countries but has reached out to other parts of the world as well. Almost 230 million mobile users now have free access to Wikipedia through the program.

"We are thrilled that STC has joined us in removing a major barrier to accessing Wikipedia on mobile phones, Kul Takanao Wadhwa, head of mobile for the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement. "Improving access to the Wikimedia projects in the Arabic speaking world is a strategic priority for the foundation, and this partnership is a step forward in our mission to enable everyone on the planet to access free knowledge."

Saudi Telecom subscribers can tap into the free service in both Arabic and English via Wikipedia's mobile Web site. Though available on a mobile connection, access to the site can take advantage of fast browsing speeds. However, people on slow connections can use a text-only version of the site.