You may have heard the term "net neutrality" being thrown around a lot lately - and for good reason: if you like the internet, you should care about net neutrality A LOT. Because the future of the internet as we know it depends entirely on this principle being upheld - and there's a good chance it'll be going away in the near future.
What net neutrality means is, essentially, that all traffic is treated equally by internet service providers. That your internet connection doesn't show preference for certain sites over others - you can get to Netflix just as quickly as you can get to Hulu and vice versa. That's how it's always been, so it might be difficult to even really conceive what the world would look like where that wasn't true. And while we wouldn't truly know until net neutrality had been stripped away, we can make a few reasonable assumptions - and they're not pretty.
You should not trust ISPs to do the right thing. You should never trust Comcast, Time Warner, or any other internet provider to value you as a customer and respect your consumer rights. Anyone who's ever had to deal with their customer service will attest to that. And if they had the opportunity to, say, slow down all connections to Netflix unless you paid your ISP a "Netflix access fee," they would absolutely do that.
Losing net neutrality means losing the open, equal internet. It means ISPs can effectively alter the course of the internet forever - maybe one ISP wants to launch a video platform, so it speeds up connections to that site while simultaneously slowing down connections to Youtube (or blocking it altogether), with the goal of frustrating consumers until they give up on Youtube and begin using the ISP-owned video platform.
That isn't a future we want - but it's one that's becoming more and more possible.
In 2015, the Obama administration formalized net neutrality laws in a meaningful way - one that is currently in the process of being undone by the current FCC Chairman appointed by President Trump, Ajit Pai. But perhaps the best explanation of our current state of affairs is through perennial funny explainer-man, John Oliver: