The Federal Communications Commission has approved the first step of adopting new regulations that could affect the flow of Internet traffic.
The rules proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would undo regulations that now prohibit an Internet "fast lane." The change would allow companies to pay Internet service providers a higher fee in exchange for faster delivery of their content.
Thursday's recommendation was approved on a 3-2 vote, according to The Associated Press. The proposed rules on net neutrality moves into a 120-day formal public comment period.
U.S. Senator Al Franken, D-Minnesota, has been an outspoken opponent of the proposal.
Franken has been one of the biggest supporters of net neutrality, since coming to the Senate in 2009.
According to Minn Post, proponents of net neutrality say the new rules would destroy the fundamental principle behind that philosophy. They claim the changes would allow providers to discriminate against content from those who can't or won't pay for faster access.
In a statement, Franken added that net neutrality has allowed the Internet to become a tremendous platform for innovation and connectivity.
"But the FCC has taken a woefully misguided step toward handing the Internet over to big corporations who can pay boatloads of money for preferential treatment," Franken said. "Anyone who values a free and open Internet should be deeply troubled by the FCC's vote."
A federal court ruling in January sparked the controversy when it ruled the federal government doesn't have the power to regulate the Internet like public utilities.
The FCC says the proposed rules are fashioned after the blueprint outlined in the court's ruling.
Many Internet companies are also have reservations. Netflix expressed concerns about the proposed new rules.
We remain concerned that the proposed approach could legalize discrimination, harming innovation and punishing U.S. consumers with a broadband experience that’s worse than they already have. Netflix is not interested in a fast lane; we’re interested in safeguarding an Open Internet.
Wheeler believes his approach is the best and quickest way to restore the net neutrality rules.
Some groups have also called for the FCC to reclassify broadband under old telecom regulations, but that would likely trigger a long court fight from broadband providers and backlash from Congress.
"We are dedicated to protecting and preserving an open Internet," Wheeler told the New York Times, after the commission vote. "What we're dealing with today is a proposal, not a final rule. We are asking for specific comment on different approaches to accomplish the same goal, an open Internet."
The FCC is hoping to have new rules in place by the end of the year.