Last Wednesday when two reporters covering the protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson needed Internet access, they headed to the local McDonald’s to get it. McDonald's provides Wi-Fi free of charge and does not even require that guests purchase food in exchange for using the Internet. For many Americans across the country, McDonald’s plugs a gap in the country’s Internet infrastructure.
Lack of Access for Disadvantaged Communities
High-speed Internet access varies widely across demographic groups. Only 54 percent of families with incomes below $30,000 have broadband in their homes. In rural areas, only 62 percent of homes have high-speed access as compared with 73 percent in suburban areas. McDonald’s is uniquely situated to provide Internet access to these Americans for several reasons.
Advantages for Rural Communities
- McDonald’s has over 12,000 restaurants with free Wi-Fi and other companies provide the same kind of service. The locations are spread throughout the entire country. It’s not possible to be in the United States and farther than 107 miles from a McDonald’s. Most people live much closer to the fast food chain.
- The Wi-Fi in McDonald’s is fast. According to Open Signal, McDonald's Wi-Fi has faster download speeds than any other large open public network.
- Most American McDonald’s have free Wi-Fi. There are nearly as many McDonald’s with free Internet (12,000) as public libraries (15,000). Critically, the chain often keeps their restaurants open after libraries close.
Source: Where The Buffalo Roamed: How Far Can You Get From McDonald's?
Government can and must do more to address this problem. In his recent Congressional testimony Darrell West highlighted several policy reforms that could extend the benefits of Internet access to numerous Americans.
- More flexible rules for the mobile sector
- Incentive auctions to re-allocate scarce spectrum
- Fees for unused spectrum
- Improved Infrastructure
The benefits of private businesses offering free Wi-Fi are impossible to deny. Access to high-speed Internet has numerous benefits including supporting small business, improving healthcare delivery, and enabling next generation education tools. These types of operations can play a powerful role in helping to make sure that every American has access to high-speed Internet.