Wikipedia founder pushes his charity phone company, TPO

Wikipedia founder pushes his charity phone company, TPO

Wales says he's also working with China to reverse ban on Wikipedia there


LAS VEGAS -- Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, took the keynote stage Wednesday at CTIA Super Mobility 2015 to tout his latest venture, The People's Operator, or TPO.

TPO is what's known as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) and recently launched in the U.S. in a five-year partnership with Sprint's network. It already operates in the UK. MVNOs are wireless service providers that don't own the wireless network infrastructure. Instead, MVNOs set up business arrangements with large wireless carriers and buy network time at wholesale prices which they then sell under their own name.

What distinguishes TPO is that it takes 10% of each customer's monthly bill and gives it to any nonprofit charitable cause "that you love," according to Wales. Wales is executive chairman of TPO and said that 25% of TPO's profit goes to charity.

In addition to its charitable donations, Wales mentioned a relatively new TPO social networking community that he described as a challenge to both Facebook and Twitter. "It looks a lot like Twitter, but not just 140 characters," he said.

In a letter posted on the website, Wales took social networks to task for treating users as a "commodity to be sold to advertisers." He also blasted mobile phone companies for spending "huge amounts of money on advertising to sell you what is essentially a commodity service."

Wales was more charitable in his keynote comments at CTIA, which is a conference for showing products and services connected to the nation's largest profit-seeking wireless carriers.

As the founder of Wikipedia, Wales hasn't been afraid to confront opposition. In China, where Wikipedia is now banned, Wales said he and others are approaching China about reversing the ban. "We have a strong principle: We'll never cooperate with government censorship," he said.

In the past, China had only blocked a number of Wikipedia pages that referred to events like the student protests at Tiananmen Square in 1989.

"Now they'll only block none or all" of Wikipedia, he said. "We had a sort of equilibrium for years, which was limited to a number of pages, but now that's changed. We'll see what's for the future."

As a sign of Wikipedia's popularity in China despite the ban, Wales delighted the CTIA audience with pictures of restaurant menus from Shanghai printed in English that referred to Chinese dishes such as "Stir Fried Wikipedia" or "Wikipedia flavor."

He said such menus started appearing about the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when China "opened up the Internet in a big way." Apparently, restaurants would use Google search to learn how to say the Chinese word for chicken in English, then just assume that "Wikipedia" was the word for chicken, Wales said. As with many Google searches, a Wikipedia description of a term will often pop onto a user's screen, since Wikipedia entries are free source material that can be used without the worry of violating a copyright.

Wikipedia has 500 million unique visitors per month globally and is the fifth most-visited site in most countries, Wales said. There are 34 million articles on Wikipedia, spread across 288 languages, although 223 of those languages have far fewer articles, sometimes just 1,000.

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