In a 3-2 vote, the FCC formally proposed rules on Thursday that would allow companies to pay for priority access to the Internet.
At the same time, the commission said that it would also consider regulating the Internet as a public utility, which would provide equal access to all users.
The proposals play to both sides of the public debate over net neutrality - in which all data is treated equally on the internet - leaving open whether or not the FCC will ultimately create Internet fast lanes for customers who pay a fee.
Companies such as Netflix, Google, Facebook, and Amazon have all come out against the creation of fast lanes. Under a fast-lane system, companies would pay Internet service providers to accelerate the delivery of their content to users. On the other hand, the content of those who can't pay the fee would reach users slower.
Originally, the FCC adopted rules that protected net neutrality. But a federal appeals court struck those rules down in January, forcing the FCC to reconsider the issue of fast lanes.
A four month public comment period has now opened, in which Americans can submit their views on the FCC's proposals. After the comment period has concluded, the commission will revise its proposal and adopt a final set of rules.
Debate over fast lanes
After the vote, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) expressed concern about the move toward fast lanes, calling on the FCC to adopt rules that would govern the Internet as a public utility.
"This proposed rule leaves the individual at the mercy of an increasingly concentrated broadband market, in which the big players will be able to act as gatekeepers for online speech, deciding what gets seen and when," said Gabe Rottman, the ACLU's legislative consul, in a press release.
But FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told reporters that nothing in the proposals would lead to discrimination in Internet access.
"There is nothing in this rule, in this proposal, that authorizes fast lanes," Wheeler said. "The speed and quality of connection of the consumer purchases must be unaffected."
slk/jr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)