McDonald's is about to up the ante in the wi-fi arena. While it has already been providing free wi-fi via AT&T's hotspot service to AT&T broadband customers as well as iPhone users, it will soon be providing free wi-fi, period. That new program will begin in January.
Currently, for those not eligible for free wi-fi via an AT&T connection, McDonald’s charges $2.95 to access the Internet at its U.S. stores, in two-hour intervals. That program began with AT&T started about 5 years ago. However, the company has been encroaching on Starbucks' territory for a while now, with the recession an McDonald's McCafes emphasizing a "value-priced" sort of coffee lounge experience.
With this move, the chain will become the largest restaurant network of free wi-fi hotspots in the U.S. with 11,000 outlets and obviously more to come. Meanwhile, Starbucks, feeling the pinch of the recession as people move to cheaper, but still decent java, charges $3.99 for two hours of Internet access. It also has the same sort of free access for AT&T customers and iPhone users, and similarly has about 11,000 U.S. locations.
The question really comes down to this: look at a Starbucks retail outlet with its comfy chair and tables, and compare that to the plastic environment of McDonald's. Which would you rather sit in (for hours, that is) sponging off their bandwidth? On the other hand, it might be interesting to see how long before McDonald's becomes a haven for P2P downloaders.