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I'll Have Wi-Fi on That Big Mac

March 11

McDonalds is testing Wi-Fi Internet access for patrons at 10 Manhattan stores and the company plans more wireless sites for New York City, Chicago and in California. MacDonalds joins other location-based purveyors of wireless access like Starbucks and various hotel chains and airports, but with a big difference -- your combo meal buys you free access for the first hour.

After that, customers will pay $3 per hour, or just buy another meal to continue accessing the service provided by Cometa Networks.

MacDonald's entry into the rapidly-growing "hotspot" business is certainly welcome but appears, on its face, rather odd. For customers to dawdle at their tables while surfing the net wouldn't seem consistent with MacDonald's fast-food, high-turnover mentality, and the cost of maintaining a wireless broadband connection isn't cheap

But the company's widely-known struggle with sagging sales and profitablity seems to be driving a search for fresh approaches. and McDonald's wireless freebie puts even greater pressure on an industry itself still seeking a model that makes money.

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