The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Thursday may have jeopardised prospects for “net neutrality,” a principle requiring non-discrimination by Internet service providers between their client websites, when it voted in favour of a proposal to allow ISPs to charge higher fees to those who seek to deliver higher-quality content in the U.S.

Effectively giving a green light for plans to create Internet “fast lanes,” with paid priority accorded to relatively deep-pocketed service providers such as NetFlix and YouTube, the FCC passed the proposal by a 3-2 vote among its commissioners, along party lines.

While the vote does not signal a final outcome in the deliberations on preserving net neutrality, and the public will now be allowed to comment on the proposal before a final ruling is enacted later this year, the decision flies in the face of intensifying protest by 100 top tech companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.

Earlier this month these companies were signatories to a strongly-worded protest letter attacking a proposal to give big corporations higher-speed Internet access while relegating smaller users to relatively slower speeds of data transfer online.

After Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, put forth a plan last month to allow broadband providers to charge companies a premium for access to their fastest lanes, these companies urged that the FCC, “instead of permitting individualised bargaining and discrimination… should protect users and Internet companies… against blocking, discrimination and paid prioritisation…”

Their concern is that smaller companies that are unable to pay for high-speed data delivery may face “additional obstacles against bigger rivals,” and the higher prices charged by these websites to overcome these barriers could get passed on to individual consumers.

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