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Business

FB board member's tweet on India draws rebuke

Facebook board member Marc Andreessen's controversial tweet on India's decision to block the company's Free Basics Internet service in the country has sparked uproar on the web, prompting him to delete it and apologize.

Facebook board director Andreessen apologized on Wednesday for posting tweets in which he suggested that India would have been better off under British colonial rule.

The 44-year-old Silicon Valley venture capitalist had earlier posted the tweet: "Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?"

The comment was made during a conversation on the social networking site over the Indian authorities' move to block Facebook's plans to offer free, pared-down mobile Internet to millions of mainly poor Indians.

Andreessen, who often takes to Twitter to offer his views, said the new rules denied India's poor people access to the Internet. Only 252 million out of the South Asian nation's 1.3 billion people currently have Internet access.

But the comments triggered a backlash on Twitter, with many users lashing out at Andreessen and terming his views as "racist."

Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg condemned Andreessen's tweet, saying in a post on the social media site that the comments are "deeply upsetting, and that they do not represent the way Facebook or I think at all."

The criticism prompted Andreessen to delete the comment and apologize in a series of tweets praising India.

Net neutrality vs. Free Basics

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had on Monday, February 8, dealt a blow to Facebook's Free Basics Internet service, which the California-based company had launched in around three dozen developing and emerging countries, including India.

The service offers curtailed web services on mobile phones along with access to Facebook's own social network and messaging apps. However, it has come under fierce criticism from net neutrality advocates, who argue that it does not treat all websites equally and that the entire Internet should be available to everyone on equal terms.

India has a population of over 1.2 billion people, but less than a quarter of them have Internet access, making it a key growth market for Facebook. During a visit to New Delhi in October, CEO Zuckerberg spoke of his desire to help "the next billion" of Indians get online.

As such, the new rules are seen as a severe setback for the 31-year-old billionaire, who on several occasions has vigorously defended Free Basics, which is also known as project "Internet.org."

While Facebook said it was disappointed with the regulator's decision, it added the company would "continue our efforts to eliminate barriers and give the unconnected an easier path to the Internet and the opportunities it brings."

And Indian officials said TRAI's policy on the matter would be reviewed "every two years or sooner." As a result, the fight between the Free Basics advocates and net neutrality activists is expected to continue.

sri/hg (Reuters, dpa)