The following was written by Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

Surveys have made two things about net neutrality very clear: One is that a lot of Americans don’t understand it. And two, when Americans do understand it, they overwhelmingly support it.   

That’s why everyone who values the internet should take a moment today to understand net neutrality—and then, if you agree with most Americans, demand that it be preserved.

The reason this matters now is that net neutrality is under imminent threat. The Federal Communications Commission, led by President Donald Trump appointee Ajit Pai, voted in December to repeal net neutrality. And unless Congress takes fast action, that repeal will take effect in the coming weeks.

What Is Net Neutrality, Anyway?

The good news is that, despite all the technical jargon that gets thrown around on the topic, understanding net neutrality is really pretty simple: With net neutrality in place, essentially all information is allowed to flow freely over the internet on equal terms. Without it, internet service providers (ISPs) could block, slow, or give preferential treatment to any sites they want, potentially limiting choices and costing consumers more money.

If net neutrality is so clearly beneficial, why did the FCC vote against it? The most common answer from opponents is that net neutrality (specifically, the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which formally established net neutrality rules in 2015) amounts to excessive regulation and that getting rid of that regulation will restore the internet to its original “free” state.  

Don’t believe this bald inversion of reality. The truth is that net neutrality was the de facto state of the commercial internet for its first 20 or so years of existence. Only when it became clear that ISPs were experimenting with ways to flaunt net neutrality principles did the FCC explicitly ban practices that would hurt consumers and limit the free flow of information.

What Do the Rules Protect Against?

It’s easy to see how net neutrality preserves internet freedom by looking at the specific practices that it prohibits. If the ISPs get their way and net neutrality is repealed, they would be allowed to slow down or speed up information flowing to and from any website they choose—a practice known as throttling—or to block it altogether. Why would an ISP do that? Because it would then be in a position to charge consumers more for access, or speedier access, to these websites.

Service providers would also be able to charge websites for the use of special internet fast lanes, a practice known as paid prioritization. These costs would probably be passed along to consumers. What’s more, paid prioritization would give a big advantage to established websites that could afford the fees—and make it impossible for innovative but cash-poor upstarts to compete on a level playing field, as they have through the history of the internet.

In effect, these practices would make ISPs into all-powerful gatekeepers of the web. They would be able not only to charge discriminatory tolls to consumers and websites alike but also to use that toll-taking power to fundamentally change and control the way we experience the internet. Imagine the monthly fee you pay your ISP doesn’t get you access to the entire internet, just the slice that comes with your “package.” Or having to pay extra if you want the website or streaming service of your new company to load quickly for potential clients. Or being blocked from using a web service because your ISP owns a competing business.

Without net neutrality rules in place, there’d be nothing stopping ISPs from exploring such business plans and practices. And none of these scenarios is far-fetched—all, in fact, have happened.

Why Do We Need Net Neutrality?

Net neutrality opponents argue that there’s no reason to prohibit any of that stuff. ISPs, they note, have invested a lot of money in building high-speed communications networks that deliver the internet to our homes and businesses. The answer is that ISPs didn’t create the internet and they don’t own it. They merely connect us to it, and we already pay them for that service. 

Some net neutrality critics argue that the market should be allowed to sort all this out—that dissatisfied consumers can simply take their business elsewhere if their ISP blocks or throttles their internet access. Alas, that isn’t true—because 43 percent of American households have just one option for broadband internet service in their area, or none at all; an additional 30 percent have only two. For much of the country, broadband market competition simply doesn’t exist.

In short, only net neutrality stands between us and a greatly diminished version of the internet.

Luckily, however, and despite the FCC’s December ruling, net neutrality can still be preserved. Congress could undo the FCC’s repeal using a procedure requiring a simple majority of votes in each chamber and the signature of the president. The Senate is likely to vote next week. If the measure passes, it would pressure the House and Trump to listen to the clear majority of American consumers, of both parties, who want net neutrality.

We urge you to contact your senators at the link below and implore them to preserve net neutrality.