McDonalds fast food joints are one of WayPort‘s biggest retail partners, and the company used to charge $2.95 for two hours’ worth of Wi-Fi access—except for AT&T customers, many of whom can tap into WayPort Wi-Fi as a fringe benefit of their service. Now, however, McDonalds is throwing open the doors, announcing that it will no longer be charging for Wi-Fi access at some 11,000 retail locations beginning today. Folks wondering where their children are after school should look amongst the gaggle of kids huddled over their phones, portable gaming devices, and iPod touches in the corner booth.
Although charging for two hours of free Wi-Fi wasn’t all that popular amongst business users and travelers—very few of whom plan to spend two hours in a McDonalds restaurant—a free Wi-Fi offering will no doubt appeal to folks looking for a quick meal and a way to check up on news, email, and social networking sites via a netbook, Wi-Fi capable smartphone, or other device. And, of course, free Wi-Fi might make McDonalds even more of a magnet for children and teens looking to tap into the Internet with their friends…and without supervision from parental units.
The move also punctuates the growing perception that free Wi-Fi is becoming an expected utility of businesses, not unlike water fountains, bathrooms, and electricity. Free Wi-Fi is already common in airports and many restaurants…although massive chain outfit Starbucks has recently revamped its customer rewards program to make access to its Wi-Fi hotspots more complicated and difficult.