[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/22/art.computer.gi.jpg caption="FCC proposes new rules of the road for the Internet."]
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Federal Communications Commission took the first step Thursday in a process intended to formalize and further define principles governing management of the Internet's infrastructure by the nation's broadband access service providers.
The federal agency published two pages of proposed rules which the FCC says are intended "to preserve the open Internet," an approach to the nation's information super highway that seeks to make access open to all under fair and equal conditions.
In a statement announcing its proposal, commonly termed "net neutrality," the FCC explained its aims in drafting the new rules.
"In addition to providing greater predictability for all stakeholders, the [proposed rules are] aimed at securing the many economic and social benefits that an open Internet has historically provided," the agency's statement says, "[The proposal] seeks to do so in a manner that will promote and protect the legitimate needs of consumers, broadband Internet access service providers, entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses of all sizes that make use of the Internet."
The rules propose that broadband access providers be prohibited from: preventing users from sending or receiving lawful content, preventing users from running lawful applications or using lawful services, and preventing users from connecting to or using lawful devices that do not harm the network. The proposal also seeks to benefit users by preserving competition between providers of network access, applications, services, and content.
And, under the new rules awaiting approval, broadband access providers would be required to treat all lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory way, and access providers would have to disclose to users information about their practices for managing their broadband networks. The proposed rules announced Thursday permit broadband access providers to engage in reasonable efforts to manage traffic and congestion on their networks.
All five commissioners voted in favor of publishing the proposed rules and seeking input from the public. But the two Republican appointees said that they did not believe there was sufficient evidence to support the specific approaches favored by the agency's Democratic majority.
The FCC's proposal has revealed differences within the Democratic Party about whether the Internet should be regulated. In anticipation of the FCC's proposal being formally rolled out Thursday, 10 Democratic senators sent a letter to the FCC chairman expressing their support for "net neutrality."
Last week, a group of 72 House Democrats wrote to the FCC chairman suggesting that the agency reconsider its plans for new rules governing the Internet. The letter was signed by several members of the Blue Dog coalition, a group of conservative Democrats largely from rural congressional districts, and by several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom represent urban areas across the country.
On Thursday, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, introduced "The Internet Freedom Act of 2009," a bill that would prohibit the FCC for enacting rules regulating the Internet.
Click here to read the FCC's proposal.