In a further sign of the spread of wireless Internet technology, McDonald's restaurants in three U.S. cities will offer one hour of free high-speed access to anyone who buys a combination meal.
Ten McDonald's in Manhattan will begin offering wireless WiFi, or 802.11b, Internet access on Wednesday, McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard said.
By year's end, McDonald's will extend the access to 300 McDonald restaurants in New York City, Chicago and a yet-unannounced California town, Howard said.
"You can come in and have an extra value meal and send some e-mail," Howard said. Window signs will alert customers to the restaurants with WiFi access, she said.
Besides McDonald's, Internet surfers will also be able to tote their laptops to 400 U.S. Borders book stores, hundreds of hotels and a pair of U.S. airports where WiFi access will be available by summer, companies announced Monday.
And computer maker Toshiba and chipmaker Intel say they'll set up wireless "hot spots" in coffee shops, hotels and convenience stores across the United States.
For those who roost with their laptops in McDonald's, Internet surfing could affect the waistline.
After using the hour of free access that comes with a meal, customers can pay $3 for another hour online — or simply buy another extra value meal, Howard said. The pilot program lasts for three months, she said.
Cometa Networks, a startup working to offer WiFi connections in businesses across the country, will provide the Internet bandwidth for the offer.
McDonalds' announcement coincides with several related WiFi developments timed to coincide with the Wednesday release of Intel Corp.'s Centrino microprocessor.
The Centrino chip, tailored for laptop computers, contains a built-in WiFi transceiver that allows Internet access at speeds of up to 11 megabits per second, far faster than dial-up connections. More than a dozen computer makers will introduce new Centrino-based laptops on Wednesday.
Hilton, Mariott, Sheraton, Westin and W hotels will tout wireless access points in hundreds of hotels in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany.
And access will also be extended to passenger lounges at the airports in Dallas-Fort Worth and San Francisco, Intel said.
The emergence of WiFi at stores and eateries recalls the mid-nineties sprouting of Internet cafes, where customers could drink or munch while checking email or cruising the Web. The popularity of those cafes ebbed as more and more Americans got Internet access via their office or home computer.