Burger King — a fast-food chain that sells cheap beef — apparently understands net neutrality more than the average member of Congress. The company released an ad today explaining the concept of net neutrality with a stunt that showed what it would be like to have paid prioritization in a burger joint. In the ad, actors playing Burger King employees taunt “actual guests” by making them wait for absurd amounts of time to receive their food — unless they pay huge tolls to get it quickly.
Most of the popular net neutrality discussion in the past year has been reduced to this idea of “fast and slow lanes,” which refers to deliberate throttling of internet content. That’s the extreme scenario, and ISPs haven’t ruled it out. ISPs aren’t throttling content yet (that we know of), but they are privileging content they have a stake in. This is why DirecTV, which is now owned by AT&T, can be streamed by AT&T customers without counting against their data caps.
But there’s a surprising amount of nuance in Burger King’s joke. 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.
Burger King obviously made this video just so we would blog about it, and yet we can’t resist the delicious, flame-broiled taste of net neutrality content. When we asked the company why it decided to make this ad, the company said, “We believe the internet should be like Burger King restaurants.” Sure, why not.