By a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed so-called "Net Neutrality" rules aimed at prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating between Internet traffic.
Supporters of "Net Neutrality" have been disappointed by the proposed rules, saying they heavily favor the industry they are supposed to regulate.
Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps both voted with Chairman Julius Genachowski in favor of the new rules, despite saying they believed the Open Internet Order to be too weak.
Republican Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker voted against it.
Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who has championed "Net Neutrality" in the past, said the FCC's proposed rules would actually "destroy" the principle of "Net Neutrality."
The rules authored by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski would require ISPs to allow their customers to have access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks and prohibit unreasonable network discrimination.
But the plan would also allow for a greater fractioning of the Internet and data rationing on mobile and wired networks, according to analysis of the policies. Major network stakeholders like Verizon and AT&T would be able to sell bandwidth in capped tiers, with overage charges for users who download too much information, and certain types of data traffic like peer-to-peer file transfers could be banned altogether.
The FCC would additionally require broadband providers to disclose their network management practices.
If they pass and telecoms are allowed to move forward with their plans, "the Internet as we know it would cease to exist," Sen. Franken concluded in an editorial published by Huffington Post.
"That's why Tuesday is such an important day," he continued. "The FCC will be meeting to discuss those regulations, and we must make sure that its members understand that allowing corporations to control the Internet is simply unacceptable."
In a recent speech, Genachowski specified that the FCC's rules would permit ISPs to charge heavy bandwidth users even more, creating a tiered pricing structure. ISPs would also be able to charge fees to businesses serving large quantities of data.
The new rules would apply to wireless Internet providers as well as wired Internet providers, but wireless Internet providers are expected to receive greater flexibility in their ability to manage web traffic.
Tiered pricing structures are already in place for many communications providers like AT&T and Cricket, which offer wireless broadband services. Verizon said it would implement similar pricing structures in the coming months.
With a recent report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that a majority of Americans age 25-29 live in households that only have cell phone access, the importance of wireless connections is expected to grow.
"We are deeply disappointed that the chairman chose to ignore the overwhelming public support for real 'Net Neutrality,' instead moving forward with industry-written rules that will for the first time in Internet history allow discrimination online," Free Press Managing Director Craig Aaron said in a statement. "This proceeding was a squandered opportunity to enact clear, meaningful rules to safeguard the Internet's level playing field and protect consumers."
Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell warned Tuesday that the new "Net Neutrality" rules would be used by President Barack Obama to takeover the Internet.
"The Obama Administration, which has already nationalized health care, the auto industry, insurance companies, banks and student loans, will move forward with what could be a first step in controlling how Americans use the Internet by establishing federal regulations on its use," he said.
Republican Commissioner McDowell had less alarmist disagreements with the new rules.
"Analysts and broadband companies of all sizes have told the FCC that new rules are likely to have the perverse effect of inhibiting capital investment, deterring innovation, raising operating costs, and ultimately increasing consumer price," he wrote in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. "On this winter solstice, we will witness jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah as the FCC bypasses branches of our government in the dogged pursuit of needless and harmful regulation."