Burger King is selling customers a whopper of a lie by attempting — and failing — to explain a complex issue by dumbing down the debate using hamburgers.
On Jan. 25, the Home of the Whopper lived up to its name with a commercial that seemed to call for going back to the net neutrality rules established by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration in 2015 then repealed earlier this year by the new FCC, now controlled by President Trump’s appointees.
Net neutrality, in part, prevents Internet service providers from throttling, blocking or prioritizing certain websites over others. The Trump-controlled FCC reversed the ruling to encourage competition and thus lower costs.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai put it best on Dec. 14, the same day the FCC voted to overturn Obama-era net neutrality:
What is responsible for the phenomenal development of the Internet? It certainly wasn’t heavy-handed government regulation. Quite to the contrary: At the dawn of the commercial internet, President Clinton and a Republican Congress agreed that it would be the policy of the United States ‘to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the internet… unfettered by Federal or State regulation.
This bipartisan policy worked. Encouraged by light-touch regulation, the private sector invested more than $1.5 trillion to build out fixed and mobile networks throughout the United States. 28.8k modems gave way to gigabit fiber connections. Innovators and entrepreneurs grew startups into global giants. Americas’ Internet economy became the envy of the world.
And this light-touch approach was good for consumers, too. In a free market full of permission-less innovation, online services blossomed. Within a generation, we’ve gone from email as the killer app to high-definition video streaming. Entrepreneurs and innovators guided the Internet far better than the clumsy hand of government ever could have.
Burger King framed the debate as one of Internet service companies choosing favorites when it comes to online content providers. It did so by comparing the debate to selling burgers.
In the video, customers who were willing to pay more got their Whoppers sooner. Those who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay more had to watch as customers who entered after they did received their food first.
The video misses an obvious point. If a Burger King operated in this way, its customers would flock to its competitors who don’t impose these fees.
Nevertheless, mainstream outlets loved the video, praising Burger King for “explaining” the issue.
“Allow Burger King’s New Ad to Explain Net Neutrality to You,” TIME’s headline read.
The author, Katie Reilly, framed net neutrality as government regulations that “proponents [of net neutrality] said ensured equal access to the Internet” instead of allowing ISPs “to favor certain websites or charge more for higher speeds.”
GQ’s Luke Darby praised the video as an “educational tool” that can “teach you about net neutrality.”
“Unfortunately, net neutrality can be a lot to wrap your brain around, and that makes it hard to mobilize people to pressure their senators and representatives to actually do something about it,” Darby wrote.
And TheVerge hailed the Burger King video as a “surprisingly good ad,” then added this paragraph of economic illiteracy:
When explaining the Whopper fast lane system to a customer, a cashier says that “Burger King corporation believes that they can sell more and make more money selling chicken sandwiches and chicken fries, so now they’re slowing down the access to the Whopper.”
That resembles the real conflict of interest at the heart of the net neutrality debate: ISPs are often trying to sell things that compete with each other, and they have good reasons to try to steer customers toward the content that will make them more money. The danger of a world without net neutrality is that ISPs that sell cable television or their own streaming TV services will carve up the internet to push customers toward the services that make them more money.
The reason products make more money is because they are in more demand.