Obama's deputy CTO stokes net neutrality fight

Comments made by Deputy Chief Technology Officer Andrew McLaughlin last week have evoked some strong opinions about Internet censorship.

At a telecom law conference last Thursday, McLaughlin said the Chinese government's censorship of a speech made by President Obama could be more common if the U.S. does not enact net neutrality principles.

“If it bothers you that the China government does it, it should bother you when your cable company does it,” McLaughlin said, according to Post Tech.

Yesterday, AT&T's top lobbyist Jim Cicconi said the comment was inappropriate.

"It is deeply disturbing when someone in a position of authority, like Mr. McLaughlin, is so intent on advancing his argument for regulation that he equates the outright censorship decisions of a communist government to the network congestion decisions of an American ISP," he said in an emailed statement. "There is no valid comparison, and it's frankly an affront to suggest otherwise."

He continued: "Mr. McLaughlin's statements are ill-considered and inflammatory.  They describe a supposed threat to free speech by ISPs that simply does not exist, and seem designed to manufacture a 'crisis' in order to justify regulations that could damage investment and jobs."

McLaughlin ran global policy issues for Google before joining the administration. Cicconi said, "If any entity on the Internet today has the ability to chill voices with which it disagrees, that entity is Mr. McLaughlin's former employer."

Today, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, fired back.

“It’s no surprise that AT&T and China had a similar response to the call for freedom and openness on the Internet," wrote CCIA President Ed Black. "Restricting access to content, information and speech, whether for government censorship purposes or to protect excessive revenue streams, is an affront to all those who value free speech."

“The juxtaposition of these free speech issues -- Internet censorship and net neutrality -- pulls away the layer of confusion about net neutrality that opponents have hidden behind for years.  Unrestricted, the Internet may be mankind’s greatest tool ever to promote individual freedom. We ought to do everything we can to protect that possibility --and if we aren’t careful it can become a tool to censor, surveil and manage captive audiences...."

“What probably further concerns AT&T about linking net neutrality to Internet censorship is it hits too close to home.  There is a real danger (ISPs) will use the scarcity of connectivity options and long-term contracts locking in customers as a means of control to favor one speaker or competitor over another on the Internet."