US regulators have unveiled proposals to reverse 'net neutrality' rules introduced under Barack Obama.
The plan would see the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) take a more 'hands-off' approach to the Internet - instead giving more control to telecom companies.
The proposals are likely to be welcomed by telcom giants, but were immediately criticised by Internet freedom advocates.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explains that net neutrality means ISPs "should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services".
Proponents argue that repealing net neutrality would allow internet service providers to either 'throttle' or prioritise certain websites or services for customers on different plans.
They also suggest it could lead to the introduction of measures such as 'fast lanes', allowing large internet companies to pay for access to stronger or faster connections - potentially giving an advantage to the largest corporations over smaller ones.
It is also argued that it will lead to issues for customers living in areas that do not enjoy multiple service providers.
US regulators will vote on the new proposals in a meeting on December 14th.
In a statement, FCC chairman Ajit Pai argued: "In 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet. That decision was a mistake.
"Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that's best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate."
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel hit out at the plan, saying it would saddle US web users with 'cruel consequences'.
She said: "Following actions earlier this year to erase consumer privacy protections, the Commission now wants to wipe out court-tested rules and a decade's work in order to favor cable and telephone companies.
"This is ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the Internet every day."
High-profile Democratic politicians were among the others to criticise the proposals, with Representative Keith Ellison saying it "will have a chilling effect on our freedom of expression".
The FCC is siding with big corporations by releasing a plan to claw back #NetNeutrality rules. They were hoping you wouldn’t notice. We must fight back to defend a free and open internet.
— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) November 21, 2017
The repeal of #NetNeutrality is an assault on freedom of the internet that will affect everyone. The move by @AjitPaiFCC will only benefit the highest bidders and most powerful in our country. This *is not* what our people want. pic.twitter.com/n2yKmE3p5V
— Nancy Pelosi (@TeamPelosi) November 21, 2017