The US telecoms regulator has said that it will order internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all internet data in the same way. ISPs had wanted to retain the right to prioritise some traffic.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said that it will enshrine 'net neutrality' amongst its other established principles.
The issue has been hotly debated, with some ISPs even suggesting charging content providers to deliver material to their customers, who already pay the ISP for access to the internet.
“It is vital that we safeguard the free and open internet," said FCC chairman Julius Genachowski in a speech yesterday, according to the FCC. "The internet is an extraordinary platform for innovation, job creation, investment, and opportunity."
The FCC already operates four guiding principles which inform its enforcement activity. It said that it will now add two more to preserve the 'open' nature of the internet.
"The first would prevent internet access providers from discriminating against particular internet content or applications, while allowing for reasonable network management," said an FCC statement. "The second principle would ensure that internet access providers are transparent about the network management practices they implement. The Chairman also proposed clarifying that all six principles apply to all platforms that access the internet."
Those rules will be formalised by the FCC in October.
ISPs have argued that as more and more internet users make use of the services that broadband access makes possible, such as online video, their costs are rising.
ISPs currently 'shape' traffic to ensure that a few bandwidth-hungry customers do not use up all the connectivity, leaving others effectively disconnected. Many ISPs want to go further, though, and limit the use of material such as video or downloads.
Some have even suggested turning traffic management into a revenue earning opportunity, charging content providers for access to their customers.
AT&T boss Ed Whiteacre started the net neutrality debate in 2005 when he said that internet content companies were "nuts" if they thought companies like his would continue to carry their traffic without charging them as well as users. He proposed a separate, fast service for companies that paid his firm for guaranteed fast delivery.
In the UK ISPs BT, Tiscali and Carphone Warehouse warned the BBC two years ago when it launched its iPlayer video player that it may have to pay them for the extra traffic generated and that they would have to slow down the connections of iPlayer users to maintain those of others.
BT repeated its call earlier this year for BT and YouTube owner Google to pay for the extra traffic their services generate.
An investigation by podcast OUT-LAW Radio in June found that the UK does not have any actual law or regulation protecting the concept of net neutrality. As long as ISPs are clear about network management in terms and conditions they can manage traffic as they see fit, it found.