Britain will become the Wi-Fi capital of Europe via its pubs, gaming halls and coffee shops, a consortium of retailers and technology companies have promised.
'The Cloud' will be a network of 3,000 Wi-Fi access points spread across the country, which already offers free internet access from 250 locations.
By the end of April, 1,000 access points will be up and running, primarily in pubs and gaming halls, and the eventual goal is for about 20,000 hotspots by the end of next year.
BT Openzone has signed up to provide access, and users will be able to buy access time at the location or subscribe for a monthly charge.
A similar scheme is being trialled by T-Mobile and Starbucks at the coffee chain's London branches in Fleet Street and Wardour Street.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction," said Tony Paine, chief executive of the Federation of Licensed Victualler Associations.
"Last year we started putting computers in 15 rural pubs in North Yorkshire, with the help of a government grant.
"The scheme's been so popular we're expanding it across the whole country, although some publicans have had to alter their contract with the pub owners."
Even the Campaign for Real Ale is on board. Tony Jerome, press manager for the lobby group, said: "We think it's a good thing.
"It's particularly good for village pubs that can provide the service for a small community rather than driving people to towns to get on the internet."
The network will be operated by Inspired Broadcast Networks in partnership with Leisure Link Group, which will provide its national DSL network used to update quiz gaming machines.
Site owners can buy Wi-Fi base stations and affix them to the gaming machine to use the DSL capacity.
Pub chains Scottish and Newcastle and Six Continents have also signed up to the deal.
Intel is co-sponsoring the programme and all hotspots will have Centrino and the Wi-Fi Alliance branding. Centrino is a new class of mobile technology that combines a low-powered processor, Wi-Fi and chipset.
Andrew Allison, Intel's director of mobility for the UK, said: "At first I thought it was a daft idea but, on reflection, it works well.
"Groups like All Bar One are onboard and they've got big desktops and table service which is useful if you're using a £2,000 laptop."
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