The news: George Takei — perhaps best known as captain Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise in the television series Star Trek, and all around Internet-favorite — has something to say about net neutrality.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Takei touched on a number of issues, but his discussion of the Internet, ISPs and net neutrality is what really hit home.
"Well, this audience was built not by [Internet providers], but by our efforts, by our creativity. And once we have that audience built, they want to charge us for it? [...] They can't unilaterally say, 'All right, it's our platform, we're going to charge you for it.' They didn't build that audience."
Takei admits it's a bit more complex than this — the audience "was built by us, using [the broadband companies'] platform" — but the issue needs to be examined and debated to deliver a fair policy that recognizes the inherent efforts of the audience building the Internet.
But Takei is right. While it's true that ISPs provided the platforms on which the web was built, without all the avid and dedicated people around the world filling the Internet with content, building all the tools and systems that connect people, creating the very things people want Internet access to be able to access, without all of that, companies like TimeWarner, Verizon and Comcast have nothing. Without major tech companies and services like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the countless online businesses and publications, there would be no reason to go online and these ISPs would be practically worthless.
As one redditor eloquently summed up the situation, "First they save money by letting the infrastructure degrade and then they charge extra for the scarcity of bandwidth by blaming it on the customers for their 'heavy usage.'"
And that — along with Takei's statement — may be the best way to think about this situation. While we can talk about rising Netflix prices or various service gaps, at its core, this debate stems from the very basic fact that companies are trying to charge us more for something we made because they think they can. The frightening thing is, if they win, the Internet could quickly go from being an open playground for innovation to a corporate pit for profiteering.
Fighting back. Luckily, some major tech players have already started joining forces to address the looming threat to net neutrality. And through various visualizations, graphs and explanations, hopefully the average Internet user will begin to understand that net neutrality — the thing that made the Internet great — cannot die. That is, if it hasn't already.