On February 26th, the Federal Communications Commission (better known as the FCC) will be voting on whether to classify broadband internet as a Title II service - something that would give it the same open legal status as telephone lines, a concept called net neutrality. For those of us who regularly read, stream and, yes, even torrent from online sources, this is more than just a vague formality. Losing net neutrality could have a massive and possibly permanent impact on how we get not just entertainment but news and other information. And while some in Washington are speaking out on the side of an open internet, Republicans are already tossing out meaningless reactionary phrases like “Obamacare for the internet” to try to secure the tubes for their corporate sponsors.

  The concept of net neutrality is a simple one: Your internet service provider is not allowed to filter, throttle or otherwise meddle with what you’re accessing. They can’t block sites or slow down streaming from certain sources.

  Without net neutrality, internet providers would be allowed to charge users extra for services like Netflix, or sell packages to allow you access to, say, social sites, but force you to pay for a separate extra package for news sites. They would be able to run the internet like they already run cable television, sectioning off and provisioning what they want to allow you to get for your money, choosing which sites to carry and which to drop like an under-performing niche cable network. The number of voices that would be silenced by such a move is staggering. Everything from self-hosted cooking blogs to webcomics would live or die based on whether the providers wanted to allow users to access them. The entire Patreon-fueled online creative economy would collapse.

  Even grimmer is the potential for censorship. Cable news is hardly a bastion of diverse opinions and voices, with its range that stretches from Moderately Leftish to Super Crazy Right. The big ISPs that are trying to dismantle net neutrality aren’t exactly run by hardline socialists. Left and even moderate viewpoints aren’t likely to be featured prominently in their Internet News Packages.

  Net neutrality existed by default until the FCC codified it in 2010. But with that official recognition came challenges, and in January 2014 the DC Circuit Court overthrew the rules that kept internet service providers from filtering content. (Thanks, Verizon!) The publicity surrounding the issue has kept ISPs from acting up too much in public.

  One thing that’s well documented now, though, is something that has an effect on more than just hardcore lefties and torrenting nerds: Many large ISPs have started throttling Netflix. The streaming video provider has set up a web site — ispspeedindex.netflix.com — to provide a Wall of Shame for guilty ISPs. Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and possibly others have even demanded Netflix pay a “toll” to let their users stream at full speed. And while Netflix is paying for now, they’ve joined President Obama and the FCC Chairman himself in asking the FCC to classify the internet under Title II and put a stop to this mafia-esque nonsense.

  Net neutrality is far from a forgone conclusion, and it’s something we all need to be watching and fighting for. It’s not just about online games, obscure webcomics and pirating Game of Thrones. It’s about freedom of expression. And it’s also about binge-watching TV shows.