It won't be long before the sign reads "Billions and Billions of Web Pages Served" at your local McDonald's (NYSE:MCD). The world's leading restaurant chain is teaming up with Wi-Fi provider AT&T (NYSE:T) to offer free connectivity to customers in stateside stores come mid-January.

It's about time.

The thrifty fast-food chain behind the Dollar Menu deals was stiffing its patrons, charging them $2.95 for two hours of access.

Slowly but surely, charging a premium for access is becoming a veto-sprouting liability. Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) has learned the hard way, recently relaxing its access standards after several quarters of declining comps.

McDonald's hasn't had a problem attracting crowds, but it's the buck-priced double cheeseburgers, parfaits, and breakfast sandwiches that have been winning over recessionary feasters.

I can't recall ever seeing someone roll up sleeves, crack knuckles, and begin pecking away on a laptop inside a McDonald's, but that may change with the new policy. As the fast-food giant expands its premium beverages and upgrades its interiors to take on Starbucks, it's the right thing to do.

The perceived value of connectivity has been plummeting anyway. Last month found the country's three leading search engines announcing pro bono access over the holidays.

  • Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) teamed up with airport and hotel mobile ad network JiWire, offering free online access in exchange for a single search on Microsoft's Bing.
  • Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) declared that it would be footing the bill to provide free Wi-Fi at 47 of the country's busiest airports between now and Jan. 15.
  • Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) rolled out a free hotspot in New York City's Times Square that will remain in place for at least a year.

It's evolutionary, really. The next time you're hungry for some free Wi-Fi, don't be surprised if you're asked if you would like some fries with that.

Will we ever have coast-to-coast connectivity for free? Post your thoughts in the comment box below.

Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Starbucks is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wonders if McDonald's will take him up on his "billions of Web pages served" idea. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.