What a time to be alive. Last week, Burger King released a commercial as profound as any of the films that were just nominated for Oscars. Turns out a subversive fast food commercial could have saved net neutrality, folks. If only it had been on time.
With more than a million views on YouTube, the new Burger King ad is a filmed prank. Inside a Burger King, cashiers sell Whoppers the same way we could soon be buying internet access now that net neutrality has been repealed. Using fast food customers as test subjects, the scenario plays out like a social experiment that students discuss in classrooms.
For months, some of the brightest minds on the planet were screaming from the rooftops about what could happen if net neutrality was repealed. The basic principle is that internet service providers should be prohibited from blocking or slowing access to websites and applications.
But the Federal Communications Commission removed this protection on December 14 and now ISPs are free to block or throttle content, which would allow them to handicap competitors and block political opinions they disagree with.
This is the type of issue that should have been of utmost concern to millions of Americans who stare at screens all day. But it is not something that can be easily explained in a sound bite. The details are confusing and the potential consequences are so ridiculously evil that it can sound like hyperbole.
But we now know that Whoppers should have been used to spread the word. The commercial starts with sidewalk interviews from random people who have no idea what net neutrality is. Then it cuts to a scene in a Burger King where an unhappy customer is being told his burger is taking so long because he bought the “Slow Access Whopper Pass.”
In this alternate reality, Burger King charges different prices for Whoppers based on speed, or MBPS (making burgers per second). Prices range from $4.99 (Slow Access) to $25.99 (Hyperfast). It’s “like a lane system,” as one customer says, where the high paying customers get top priority. Indeed, a guy who paid $26 for a Whopper gets instant access while other customers complain about a 25-minute wait.
This scenario mimics the very real future possibility that you could have to pay extra for “preferred access,” or for any access at all, to a site like Facebook or YouTube.
One of the cashiers even explains that this is a business technique to increase chicken sandwich sales by slowing access to Whoppers. Now that net neutrality is repealed, this idea references another possible future for consumers online. Your ISP could create a competitive advantage that influences your viewing habits by, for example, throttling Netflix and speeding up access to Hulu.
Another cashier tells angry customers that their Whoppers are ready, but they don’t have to hand them over yet because “Whopper Neutrality” was appealed. The premise is absurd, yet based on a true story.
There is no denying that this Burger King commercial is brilliant. When I first saw it, it made me think of The Yes Men and I thought it was an art project. But this is indeed a three-minute Burger King commercial that is hilarious, entertaining, engaging, and somehow very informative. It perfectly explains net neutrality, communicating more effectively than months of effort from journalists and social media warriors.