Burger King Doesn't Want You to Have the Internet Your Way

Burger King Doesn't Want You to Have the Internet Your Way
Jeremy Ervin /Journal & Courier via AP
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As if late night comedians weren’t already a poor source of policy knowledge, Burger King—yes, Burger King—has decided to wade into the debate about public utility-style regulation of Internet service providers (ISPs), more commonly referred to as “Net Neutrality.” The second-rate fast food chain has produced a video that attempts to simplify the issue, but the result is just a heap of steaming garbage served up in less than three minutes—I guess that’s their thing.

The video, called “Whopper Neutrality” shows a series of poorly-played “customers” being charged more to get their Whoppers faster. The cashiers respond to the feigned outrage by explaining Burger King believes they can sell more chicken sandwiches by slowing down access to the Whopper, a hamburger, and that customers can choose a series of tiered speeds for Whopper access. Burger King wants us to believe this is how the Internet will work now that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has reinstituted the less-stringent rules governing ISPs that applied all the way back in… 2014. 

Deciding where to begin dismantling their argument is like deciding which side of the burger gets the first bite.

Right away, Burger King shows the “customers” hate the new system. Without realizing, Burger King actually proved why we don’t need onerous neutrality rules.  Customers would revolt at the hypothetical practices constantly floated by neutrality activists and undoubtedly take their business elsewhere. Some will say Americans don’t have as many ISPs choices as they do fast food chains, but that’s a problem created by government, not the market. Local regulations and collusive arrangements between ISPs and local governments box-out competition in underserved areas. The Net Neutrality rules that were just repealed had the same effect, but applied nationwide. Investment in broadband infrastructure is $200 billion behind projections since 2010, when the prospect of Net Neutrality rules were first raised at the FCC. So, yes, you might be stuck with Burger King today, but imagine the delicious options you’ll have tomorrow with government out of the way!

Then there are all the problems with a company like Burger King telling the government that special rules should apply to companies in an entirely different sector. So let’s imagine if the government decided it was time for some fast food neutrality.

First, it’s important to understand what Net Neutrality really means, and I won’t need nearly as much of your time to get it right as Burger King did to get it so wrong. There are companies that build the Internet infrastructure, i.e. running cable to your home, known as ISPs, and companies that use that infrastructure to distribute their products and services. Net Neutrality, good or bad, means that the ISPs can’t use their infrastructure to gain an advantage over companies who use that infrastructure by limiting or blocking access. To accomplish this, the FCC implemented rules that would allow for the government to actively regulate the ISPs by reserving the right to have first-say over if their prices and practices were acceptable.  This might sound great, but consider if we expected Burger King to live under these same rules. 

Under fast food neutrality, if Burger King sought to change its prices, menu, or really alter its business in any way, including building a new restaurant, they first would have to seek the blessings of the lawyers and bureaucrats in Washington. Fast-food and government may both leave you feeling gross, but at least one will do it quickly.

At the end of the video, Burger King says, “The Internet should be like the Whopper, the same for everyone.” Is that really what people want? What if I want to add bacon or don’t want cheese? Different people have different wants. Some people just use the Internet for email, while others have vast and complicated data needs. Some watch a lot of movies, other listen to more music, others play more video games. Yet, Net Neutrality activists openly encouraged the FCC to go after T-Mobile for providing customers an option that featured unlimited video streaming from services like Netflix and HBO. Why shouldn’t consumers have this choice?

The Whopper should be the same for everyone? Hey, Burger King, I thought your slogan was, “Have it your way.”

Finally, let’s look at how Burger King’s business model compares to an ISP. Burger King builds restaurants (infrastructure) to deliver food and beverages that are produced by other companies. Burger King isn’t farm-to-table; they buy meat, cheese, potatoes, soda, and condiments from other companies, prepare them, and deliver to the customer.  Yet, I can’t walk into a Burger King and demand they sell me a Pepsi instead of a Coca Cola or put Hunt’s ketchup on my fries instead of Heinz. I want soda and ketchup, but Burger King blocks my access to Pepsi and Hunt’s and sold fast lanes to Coca Cola and Heinz!

That’s not neutral! And, that’s not a problem either.

The government shouldn’t be telling companies whose products they’re required to sell and at what price, regardless of whether they’re selling sodas or streaming video access. The role of government is to get out of competition’s way so consumers can vote with their dollars and check companies’ bad behavior. For example, I doubt I’ll buy food from the misinformation servants at Burger King again.

Patrick Hedger is a Research Fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. 

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