ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In India, Facebook has a program to give people free Internet access, but just to use Facebook and a handful of other services. Earlier this week, regulators in India ruled that that is discriminatory to other sites illegal. A board member of Facebook went on Twitter to criticize the ruling and, in so doing, sparked a global controversy. Here's NPR's Aarti Shahani.
AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: It got ugly. Marc Andreessen, Facebook board member and celebrated venture capitalist, started by tweeting, it is morally wrong to deny the world's poorest free partial Internet connectivity. OK. He then called India's decision, quote, "another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian government against its own citizens" - clearly escalating. And then, Andreessen went on to say, quote, "anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?"
MUKUND MOHAN: Does he really think this way? Does he really believe that colonialism is a good thing for a lot of countries in the emerging markets?
SHAHANI: Mukund Mohan is director of strategy at Microsoft, a Facebook competitor.
MOHAN: Or did he just say that as a comment that was uninformed and off-the-cuff on Twitter?
SHAHANI: Mohan says these are questions he was getting from his friends, investors back home. He splits his time between Bangalore and Seattle. India is Facebook's second-largest market. As U.S. companies try to appeal to the everyday consumer abroad, Mohan says, keep this in mind.
MOHAN: Most people, I would say, the world over don't think that colonialism was a good thing.
SHAHANI: According to Mohan, Indians can be more racist, joke about skin color more than people in the U.S. do, but Indians are far more sensitive to being depicted as backward - a land of snake charmers an child brides. Mohan says, maybe because Andreessen's never been to India, he underestimated that sensitivity.
MOHAN: I don't necessarily think he thinks that, but there are enough people asking that question.
SHAHANI: Andreessen's firm declined to say if he's been there. The controversy has people scrutinizing Facebook's intentions. For months, CEO Zuckerberg has been trying his hand at diplomacy, hosting India's prime minister at Facebook headquarters, writing an op-ed and placing ads in newspapers.
SUMANTH RAGHAVENDRA: It is about control. And it's especially about, you now, controlling it on their terms.
SHAHANI: Sumanth Raghavendra is a startup founder in India. He says look at the facts. Facebook claims it's connecting the poor, but according to news reports in India which Facebook does not refute, 1 million people are using the free program, but the vast majority of them were people who've been online.
RAGHAVENDRA: People who were just looking to sort of skimp on their data plan and get to surf a bit without having to pay for it.
SHAHANI: In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg chastised his board member. And Andreessen tweeted, quote, "to be clear, I am 100 percent opposed to colonialism and 100 percent in favor of independence and freedom in every country, including India," end quote. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco.
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