FCC commissioners voted 3-2 to adopt the rules that found favor among Democrats and disapproval from Republicans.
President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the new rules would "help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice and defending free speech."
But others said free speech would best be served without regulation. "This change of policy ... is a stepping stone for additional control of the Internet and the eventual regulation of journalism itself," said Jason Stverak, President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
The "network neutrality" rules -- which some analysts said would likely lead to legal challenges -- would prevent providers like Time Warner Cable's Road Runner High Speed Online from blocking access to legal sites and applications. They would also let broadband providers charge more to companies that want faster service for delivery of games, videos or other services, and would give wireless companies more latitude in putting limits on access to services and applications.
Before the vote, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a statement, "I believe that it is appropriate for the FCC to safeguard," the Internet, calling it "a crucial American marketplace."
Opponents of the rules characterize them as "a solution in search of a problem," arguing broadband service providers have no plans to block content or degrade network performance.
Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior vice president and policy director of Media Access Project said the regulatory incursion into the affairs of the Internet "foreshadow years of regulatory confusion."
The two Republican members of the FCC had said the proposed rules would impose an unneeded burden and will discourage broadband investment.
On Capitol Hill, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, has proposed ending FCC funding to enforce the rules. House GOP lawmakers intend to hold hearings and legislation to overturn net neutrality, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Similar rules proposed by the FCC in 2005 were thrown out by a federal appeals court in April.