US Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin agreed with the idea that network operators could start charging consumers for accessing the net's infrastructure at the International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas this week.

In an on-stage interview with Consumer Electronics Association president and CEO Gary Shapiro at the annual conference, Martin said consumers should continue to have access to "everything that's available for free on the internet" without having that access blocked from network operators and service providers.

However, he agreed with the idea that operators should be able to charge consumers for premium bandwidth and services provided over pipes the operators own, and that this activity does not mean they are "blocking" consumers' access to the web.

"I think it's important to realise the operators themselves have an interest in potentially selling tiers of speed and service," Martin said. "If a consumer chooses to buy a lower tier and then tries to access content... and they can't access [it] because they haven't bought enough capacity, well they're not being blocked from getting access to that."

Standalone net neutrality legislation failed to pass in US Congress last year, with many of the then-majority Republicans opposed to it. Since then, the Democratic party, which is more friendly to net neutrality, has taken control of Congress.

Two senators - a Democrat and a Republican - reintroduced to a recently convened Congress a bill that would prohibit broadband providers from giving customers faster and more stable access to their own content than to competitors' content.