The Australian wing of McDonald's is wrestling with the price of free: The company started offering free Wi-Fi to all comers--no purchase required--last November, and has exceed 1m user sessions since then, CeBIT09 reports, with 300K sessions in the month since installing free service in a majority of its outlets. Users spend an average of 35 minutes, instead of the 10 that a diner dwells. Usage is capped at 50 MB per session, but isn't limited by time.
McDonald's in the U.S. charges for service, although offers some promotions. AT&T, which operates the U.S. McDonald's locations as part of its AT&T WiFi hotspot network, includes free access to Mickey D and over 7,000 other hotspots to the telecom giant's broadband, iPhone, and many BlackBerry subscribers.
In Australia, the long dwell time is leading the company to think about variations, such as ghettoized Wi-Fi seating. The company might offer greater session bandwidth for a fee.
I regularly read accounts of a coffeeshop or chain changing Wi-Fi usage policies or adding purchase or other requirements because they feel that paying customers are walking in and out because they can't find seating, or low turnover results in the wrong atmosphere for the location.
I first wrote in detail about what seemed to me some kind of gap between one-off anecdotes and a minor trend four years ago (Victrola Cafe here in Seattle). Since then, I haven't seen an acceleration, just a regular ticking over of owners or managers of venues that get tired of behavior or dwell time.
It's fascinating how you can have cafes, especially, in the same part of town in which one cafe finds Wi-Fi users nearly intolerable and another who finds it critical for business.