AT&T Inc. said Wednesday it will make its 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots free to nearly all of its broadband Internet customers starting early next week.
Only subscribers to AT&T's premium broadband services previously had free access to its hotspots, leaving out the majority of high-speed users, who have the 1.5-Mbps service.
Now, more than 10 million broadband customers, most of AT&T's high-speed Internet subscribers, will be able to use the hotspots free of charge.
"It's a differentiator for us when people are choosing between competitors," said AT&T spokesman Fletcher Cook.
Most Wi-Fi hotspots — in restaurants, airports and other public places — charge daily or monthly fees for access.
AT&T wireless customers who use Apple Inc.'s iPhone currently must get a Wi-Fi package to use their iPhone at AT&T hotspots, but they now can use their iPhones at hotspots for free if they are AT&T broadband Internet subscribers.
San Antonio-based AT&T also said Wednesday that it will introduce a faster broadband service that can send data at up to 10 Mbps. The service, at $55 per month, will be available only to customers of its Internet Protocol-based television service, U-verse.
Demand for such high speeds still comes from a relatively small segment of the overall broadband market, in part because actual Internet speeds depend on a host of variables ranging from an individual Web site's server to the flow of data on various networks.
Faster broadband services are most favored by customers who download movies and music or share a lot of photos over the Internet, all of which require heavy amounts of data to move across the network.