AT&T expands a previous free offer to premium DSL subscribers to almost all DSL subscribers: That's right: 10m AT&T DSL subscribers now qualify for free Wi-Fi at the 9,000 McDonald's and 1,000 other locations in AT&T's network (operated or resold by Wayport). Anyone with 1.5 Mbps DSL or greater, which is pretty much all of its subscribers, can sign up for free Wi-Fi at the AT&T Web site.
This is another big win for Wayport, which has a few deals already for free access to its McDonald's locations: Nintendo for its DS2 player and Zipit for the Zipit Wireless Messenger 2. I've long thought it odd that AT&T was willing to charge even a nominal amount to its DSL subscribers for them to use Wi-Fi, because that set a bar that would keep people from using it. Because AT&T is clearly using Wi-Fi as a customer retention tool, not a real line of revenue, the $2 per month charge seemed a little silly--both too low and too high.
I'm not sure if this puts any pressure on other locations or operators, because the kind of AT&T customer who would find this free access appealing is likely not paying for Wi-Fi elsewhere. And while McDonald's are convenient, it's not quite the same thing as, say, the mix of networks in Boingo's aggregated network or the comfort of Starbucks in T-Mobile's network.
Of course, McDonald's is putting in coffee bars in its stores, and perhaps this is part of a strategy that involves the fast-food giant to get more customers that frequent Starbucks, thus increasing the average meal price. But McDonald's would need to put cushy chairs and sofas in meet the coffee retailer halfway.