The US telecommunications regulator has voted to go ahead with proposals that opponents believe will finally quash the principle of net neutrality if implemented.
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The principle dictates that data packets on the internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source.
The issue has been the subject of intensive lobbying and debate, with telecoms operators arguing they should be able to charge extra to internet firms that rely heavily on their investments in capacity.
In April, members of the European parliament voted strongly in favour of proposed legislation to prevent telecoms network operators blocking or slowing down selected services for any reason.
But the plan, voted in the by the US Federal Communication Commission by three votes to two, could allow internet service providers (ISPs) to charge a fee for prioritised access to their networks.
Opponents argue the new rules could create a two-tiered internet, with a slow lane for those unwilling or unable to pay the premiums set by network operators for unrestricted bandwidth.
But several members of the FCC said the proposals do not necessarily mean that content providers will have to pay to have their traffic delivered faster, according to the BBC.
The FCC’s adopted proposals on the future of the internet are now open to public consultation.
The proposals were drawn up after a US appeals court ruled the FCC did not have the authority to impose the net neutrality rule, which requires high-speed internet firms to treat all web traffic equally.
The FCC claims the proposed rules are aimed at preserving an open and free internet, but there has been mounting opposition to the proposals since details were leaked ahead of the vote.
The strongest opposition is to a proposal that ISPs be allowed to charge fees if they are "commercially reasonable".
Opponents say if smaller firms develop services that become popular they will not be able to compete with larger companies that can afford to pay for access to fast last services.
The public consultation period will run until 15 July 2014. The FCC said it would "listen closely" to the views.
More on net neutrality
- Net neutrality rule unconstitutional, says US court
- Why SDN and NFV thinkers should care about net neutrality
- European Commission opens net neutrality consultation
- EC vice-president Neelie Kroes proposes net neutrality legislation
- Vaizey wins cautious praise on net neutrality
- Will net neutrality kill off innovation?
- Comcast sparks US net neutrality row
- Keep the net neutral, says Europe