Regulators approve tougher rules for Internet providers

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The Federal Communications Commission has agreed to impose strict new regulations on Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Internet activists are applauding a landmark vote by federal regulators that affects how people use the Internet.

Thunderous applause filled a hearing streamed live around the world, but the vote was far from unanimous.

"I cannot support this monumental and unlawful power grab," said Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O'Reilly.

The commission voted to regulate broadband Internet providers, like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T under the same laws that govern phone companies.

They want to make sure a company like Comcast can't stream its own videos at high quality, but demand that a competitor like Netflix pay extra or get stuck in the slow lane.

"This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech," Said Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman.

Amid the cheering crowd were entrepreneurs from the Bay Area.

"I was in D.C. two weeks ago helping to promote my opinion and our position," said Daniel Kador, Keen co-founder.

Daniel Kador runs a startup called Keen that analyzes data for websites. His competitors are the big fish, Google and Amazon.

"When there are big incumbents that have monopolies and can pay to keep you from disrupting their business, that's a really scary situation," Kador said.

Kador and others met with commissioners who've had plenty of visits from the big names.

In fact, Netflix spent $4 million dollars on lobbying over the past five years.

"One of the things I was most happy about was that they were excited to hear from some of the smaller companies out there," Kador said.

The startup advocacy group Engine says the vote gives small companies a fighting chance.

"We've seen that consumers are very sensitive to speeds, so even a small difference in speeds bw two sites is going to put the slower site at a huge disadvantage," Engine policy director Evan Engstrom said.

They give credit to President Obama for his well-timed video message last November. The president sent a tweet after the vote, thanking the four million people who wrote to the FCC.

"This is what advocates have been asking for," Engstrom added.

Of course, the fight is far from over. The telecom companies will likely challenge the new rules in court and there could even be attempts to overturn them in congress.
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