The FCC is expected to vote Thursday to change the way the Internet is regulated in the United States and begin enforcing so called "net neutrality." Its a move that has caused ripples from the halls of Congress to the garages of Silicon Valley. But what exactly is "net neutrality," and what does the FCC's vote mean for Internet users?

Even for smart folks who know the online landscape inside and out — like Fortune magazine senior editor Dan Primack — net neutrality can be a little hard to explain.

"I would say, generally speaking, it’s very complicated," Primack said, laughing. "How best to say this?"

Here’s how Rob Faris, research director of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, breaks it down.

"The basic idea is that all bits are treated equally as they’re passed on to computers," Faris said.

Online, everything’s made of bits — every email, high-resolution photo, or YouTube video. In a world of net neutrality, whether those bits add up to The New York Times home page or your cousin’s cat blog, they are treated equally and delivered at the same speed. Faris says it’s that level playing field that has made the Internet the Internet.

"I think most of the innovations we’ve seen on the Internet, people have attributed to the ability for entrepreneurs to get on the Internet and deliver packets and bits unimpeded to consumers on basically equal grounds," he said.

But here’s the rub. In order for that content to get to your computer, it travels through cable owned by internet service providers — or ISPs — like Comcast, Verizon, or Time Warner. It’s those companies now at the center of the latest debate over net neutrality.

"We have de facto net neutrality but that doesn’t mean we always will," Primack said.

That’s becoming increasingly clear. The ISP’s networks are only so big, And companies like, say, Netflix — that stream high quality video — are commanding larger and larger chunks of that space. This has some worried the ISPs will start playing favorites.

"If you’re a broadband provider and you make a decision internally in the absence of net neutrality rules, once this website or this app, once this website gets to a certain level of traffic and it starts costing us, we’re going to insist that they either start paying us, or we’re going to slow them down," Primack said.

It’s scenarios like this that have Internet startups, net neutrality advocates and the Federal government nervous. Especially after a court ruling last year made it clear that — as things currently stand — the U.S. Federal Communications Commission doesn’t have the power to stop ISPs from doing this kind of thing. Now, the FCC is poised to change that.

"The attempt at net neutrality, legally speaking, is more proactive than reactive," Primack said. "It’s trying to nip something in the bud before it becomes an issue rather than reacting to something that is an issue."

This week, the FCC is expected to do so by essentially reclassifying ISPs as a public utility, strengthening the feds’ ability to regulate them. Internet giants like Netflix, Amazon and Google — and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey — have all signalled support, while ISPs like Verizon and AT&T and businessmen like Mark Cuban have railed against it. Sen. Ted Cruz even called it "Obamacare for the Internet." Whatever the effect of the FCC’s ruling, Faris says to keep in mind that this latest move is by no means the last one in the fight for the future of the Internet.

"Oh this is just another chapter in the books, so we’re just looking for the next shoe to drop and to see who files the first law suit against it," he said. "It’s the United States and we take it to court, so who knows? It’s gonna be a long fight."

One that we’ll all be able to follow online — on whatever website we choose — at equal speed.