U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed on Monday new rules aimed at ensuring that network operators treat the flow of Internet content without discrimination.
Under the rules, operators would not be able to discriminate on how they handle Internet content or applications on their networks and would have to make network management practices transparent.
Advocates of net neutrality say service providers must be barred from blocking or slowing Internet traffic based on the content being sent or downloaded.
The concept, referred to as net neutrality, pits open Internet companies like Google Inc against broadband service providers such as AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications Inc and Comcast Corp, which oppose new rules governing network management.
Today, we can't imagine what our lives would be like without the Internet -- any more than we can imagine life without running water or the light bulb, Genachowski said in his first major policy speech at the Brookings Institution, a public-policy think tank.
But service providers say the increasing volume of bandwidth-hogging services -- such as video sharing -- requires active management of their networks and some argue that net neutrality could stifle innovation.
AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said the company would review the new proposals before commenting. Verizon spokesman David Fish said his company would likely comment later in the day.
The proposed rules that would apply to both wireless and landline Internet platforms will be formally proposed at an open meeting in October.
(Reporting by John Poirier, with additional reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)