The coffee wars have extended to Wi-Fi. McDonald’s will offer free Wi-Fi at the majority of its 14,000 locations in the U.S. via a partnership with AT&T (NYSE: T) starting next year, according to the WSJ. McDonald’s has offered Wi-Fi at many of its stores since 2004 under a deal with Wayport (which was purchased by AT&T last year), but was charging $2.95 an hour for access. Many stores also provide a free hour with a purchase, but customers usually have to ask for a code.
One likely motivation for the change in pricing: Starbucks, which McDonald’s is trying to one-up with its coffee offerings, offers free Wi-Fi at its stores (also via a partnership with AT&T) but with lots of caveats. Free Wi-Fi users need to register a Starbucks card and use it at least once a month or be existing AT&T customers. Otherwise, they pay $3.99 for two hours of Wi-Fi access.
AT&T has landed several high-profile Wi-Fi service contracts lately, including one earlier this year to roll out free Wi-Fi at all 777 Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) stores.