The new rules also prevent providers from blocking lawful content but still let them ration access to their networks.
The Federal Communications Commission approved the "Open Internet" order after FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan got the support of fellow Democrats Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn.
The rules aim to strike a balance between the interests of Web service providers, content companies and consumers, but some industry analysts think a court challenge is still likely.
At issue is whether regulators need to guarantee that all stakeholders continue to have reasonable access to the Internet, a principle often called "net neutrality," or whether the Internet is best left to flourish unregulated.
The two Republican commissioners at the agency opposed the measure saying it was unnecessary and would stifle innovation. Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker told an FCC open meeting that they believed the rules would fail in court.
High-speed Internet providers like Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications can "reasonably" manage their networks under the rules and perhaps charge consumers based on levels of Internet usage.
The rules, to be somewhat looser for wireless Internet, could help cable companies in competition with plans by Microsoft Corp, Google and Amazon.com to deliver competing
UK Communications Minister Ed Vaizey will be watching closely after he expressed his preference for a tiered system earlier this year but then clarified that he did not think ISPs should be able to prioritise one provider's content over another.
He is currently under pressure from several internet heavyweights such as eBay and Skype to preserve net neutrality and enshrine them into law to maintain an "open internet".
Democrat senator Al Franken said last week that the vote would decide "the most important free speech issue of our time".
He said: "Imagine if Comcast customers couldn't watch Netflix, but were limited only to Comcast's video-on-demand service. Imagine if a cable news network could get its website to load faster on your computer than your favourite local political blog. Imagine if big corporations with their own agenda could decide who wins or loses online.
"The internet as we know it would cease to exist."
The new regulations are expected to be challenged in court.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Net Neutrality to End in the US?
Net neutrality: internet 'rules' get go ahead in the US for first time