Cables plugged into modem
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Bob Moon: What if your local cable company decided to block your Internet phone calls, because you chose to use some other service than the one they offer? Or, prevented you from accessing YouTube because they had a rival service?

That prospect has brought calls for "Net neutrality" or unrestricted access to the Internet, without having your connection slowed down or blocked.

Today, the head of the Federal Communications Commission laid out his plan to make "net neutrality" the law of the land. Joel Rose explains.

JOEL ROSE: President Obama campaigned on the idea of net neutrality. And today, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski left little doubt about where he stands.

JULIUS Genachowski: I believe the Federal Communications Commission must be a smart cop on the beat preserving a free and open Internet.

Broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T have been slowing down or even blocking some kinds of traffic, like video downloads, or Internet phone services like Skype. Genachowski says the rules he's proposing would put a stop to that. But cable, phone and wireless companies insist they should be able to manage their own networks as they see fit. Jeff Kagan is a telecom analyst.

JEFF Kagan: You've got some users, usually it's a small percentage, that use enormous amounts of bandwidth. And that slows down the experience to everyone else, to the other 95 percent of customers.

Internet providers say too much government regulation could scare off investors. But some powerful companies like Google are lining up with net neutrality supporters. Google lawyer Rick Whitt says the new FCC rules would benefit companies like his that depend on access to consumers.

RICK Whitt: The net is the ultimate meritocracy, where consumers directly select winners and losers. And has allowed businesses large and small to open shop and compete on an open and level playing field.

The FCC will begin crafting the new rules at its meeting next month. Those rules are all but certain to face legal challenges from the broadband industry.

I'm Joel Rose, for Marketplace.