The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) endorsed a new two-tier system Thursday for Internet service providers, overturning the principle of "net neutrality."
For the first time, the rules would open the door for Internet providers like Comcast and Verizon to charge tech companies to send content to consumers more quickly, reports CBS News' Nancy Cordes. Netflix, for example, might pay a premium to ensure that its customers can stream movies more reliably, at a cost a start-up competitor might not be able to afford.
"Personally, I don't like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have-nots, and I will work to see that does not happen," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said.
As protesters chanted, the five FCC commissioners voted narrowly, 3 to 2, to release their proposed Internet rules to the public. The FCC is making the changes reluctantly after Verizon successfully sued over longtime federal regulations requiring broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic the same.
The commissioners who voted yes said they were doing so with misgivings.
"We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind," FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.
Tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook, which already dominate the Internet without paying extra, opposed the new rules and called them a "grave threat" in a letter to the FCC last week.
"I think it could really be the end of the free and open Internet as we know it," said Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, a group that advocates for net neutrality.
"For most Americans, they have at best two choices for truly high-speed Internet, and many only have one company that offers that in their town," Aaron said. "So as a consumer if your Internet service provider decides to start blocking or interfering or speeding up or slowing down traffic, you have nowhere else to turn. You're at their mercy."
The two Republican commissioners who voted no said the new rules would impose too many restrictions on Internet providers like Verizon, who they think should have the freedom to set prices like most other businesses. After a period of public comment, the FCC chairman said he wants to make these new rules final by the end of the year.