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Wireless Internet access in supermarkets?

Wi-Fi could be coming to a supermarket near you. That is if ICOA, a company specializing in setting up and maintaining Wi-Fi hotspots in public places, has its way.

On Wednesday, the company announced that it has won a contract with Stop & Shop, a grocery store chain in the northeastern part of the United States, to deliver free Wi-Fi to shoppers. The company, which has more than 360 stores throughout New England, New York, and New Jersey, has already deployed the technology in a store in Dorchester, Mass. Other locations will follow later this year.

I am a strong supporter of getting just about anything for free. But I have to admit when I first heard about this, I struggled to think of a time when I might actually need Wi-Fi when I'm grocery shopping.

I can't imagine trying to send email while pushing a cart down the canned food aisle. And I certainly don't see myself plopping down after I've finished shopping to hang out and surf the Web.

But then it hit me. I can't count the number of times I've gotten to the store and wondered if I had enough flour to bake a cake or if the mayonnaise that had been sitting in my refrigerator since who knows when was passed its expiration date. But my Sprint PCS phone doesnÂ’t work in the back aisles of my grocery store, so I can't call home to have someone check the cupboard and refrigerator. (Maybe the cold metal racks of milk or the towers of 12-pack Diet Coke cans cause some kind of interfere?)

If I had a Wi-Fi phone and there was Wi-Fi access in the store, I could just call home without a problem. Some people have also suggested that grocers could use Wi-Fi to direct people to certain sale items, or to help customers find store employees working in the aisles.

So I guess Wi-Fi in supermarkets isn't such a dumb idea after all.