updated 12/15/2009 7:10:18 PM ET 2009-12-16T00:10:18

McDonald's Corp. said Monday that it will soon offer free wireless Internet access at most of its U.S. fast-food restaurants as it tries to broaden its appeal still further.

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"We're not just about hamburgers," said Dave Grooms, chief information officer for McDonald's USA. "We are about convenience and all kinds of value."

The company, the world's largest fast-food chain, has offered Internet access for about five years.

In mid-January, it will lift the $2.95 fee it has charged for two hours of Internet access at 11,000 of its 14,000 U.S. locations. There will be no time limit after the fee is lifted.

"McDonald's is about value — value in our food, value in our services," Grooms said. "It's a natural fit."

It's also a good fit with the company's growing coffee business, which has upped the chain's competition with Starbucks Corp., which also offers free wireless access. Coffee and the McCafe line of drinks at McDonald's have helped drive its sales and increase its market share in the U.S.

The company, based in Oak Brook, Ill., has not released sales data for the McCafe line but said recently that its coffee business has grown from 2 percent of the chain's overall sales to 5 percent in the past few years.

Grooms said McDonald's — traditionally known as a quick stop — has become more of a destination with new products and a new look and feel at many of its restaurants, with improved lobby designs and finishes.

"We don't mind at all if people step in take advantage of the Wi-Fi and linger a bit," Grooms said.

McDonald's is providing the wireless service through a partnership with AT&T Inc. The company would not disclose the terms of the contract or how much it will spend on the change.

Shares of McDonald's fell 14 cents to close at $62 Tuesday.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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