The US has proposed new rules that would require internet firms to respect the principle of "network neutrality".
The head of the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) said that "all web traffic should be treated equally".
The new rules are intended to prevent firms throttling bandwidth-sapping web traffic such as streaming video.
Networks on both sides of the Atlantic have long argued for a two-tier system, where those that can pay are given priority over those that cannot.
"There are few goals more essential in the communications landscape than preserving and maintaining an open and robust internet," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a speech at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
"It is vital that the internet continue to be an engine of innovation, economic growth, competition and democratic engagement."
It is the first time that the Chairman has spoken out on the issue since being appointed in June.
He proposed two new rules to guide the FCC's approach to network neutrality.
The first would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating against bandwidth-intensive web-content and applications by slowing or blocking it.
"They cannot block or degrade lawful traffic over their networks, or pick winners by favouring some content or applications over others in the connection to subscribers' homes," he said.
"Nor can they disfavor an Internet service just because it competes with a similar service offered by that broadband provider."
The second would mean that ISPs would have to be more transparent about how they manage network traffic.
The two new rules join four previous guiding principles of the FCC, which state that all consumers must be able to access "lawful" content, applications, and services, and attach non-harmful devices to the network.
"I believe the FCC must be a smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open internet," Mr Genachowski said.
"This is not about government regulation of the internet," he added. "It's about fair rules of the road for companies that control access to the internet."
President Barack Obama backed the concept of network neutrality in the presidential race. It also has the support of large companies such as Google, eBay and Amazon.
However, telecommunications firms on both sides of the Atlantic argue that carrying high-bandwidth content, such as video, puts an extra burden on their networks and costs them money.
They argue the cost should, in part, be borne by the websites or the consumers.
The new rules will be formally proposed at a meeting in October.
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