The new rules prohibit Internet service providers from discriminating against legal content flowing through their wired or wireless networks, such as by charging websites for faster delivery of video and other data to consumers.
In an expected 3-2 party-line vote, the agency's Democrat majority approved a plan by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that puts broadband providers in the same legal category as more highly regulated conventional telephone companies.
Wheeler has promised a modernized, light-touch regulatory approach that would exempt Internet service from many of the tougher provisions of that designation under Title 2 of the telecommunications law, particularly rate regulation.
"The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It’s simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field," Wheeler said in voting for the proposal. "The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules."
He said the new rules and classification were "no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech."
FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted for the regulations, said: "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."
"We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online," she said.