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Starbucks caves, will make WiFi free July 1

The market rate for public WiFi access in downtowns and uptowns, strip malls and shopping centers, and most other places people drink coffee in the United States -- which is to say, a large fraction of America's populated surface -- is about to drop to zero. Starbucks announced Monday that starting July 1, it will no longer charge for WiFi Internet access in its U.S. coffee shops.


The move is an obvious step for the Seattle-based caffeine colossus, which had already begun providing two complimentary hours a day of WiFi to registered Starbucks Card holders in response to the free access offered by such competing coffee chains as Cosi and Caribou. (Those nationwide operations, in turn, followed the lead of independent coffee shops.)

Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz also said the company's U.S. locations will begin offering "a new online customer experience," the Starbucks Digital Network, this fall. Set up with Yahoo, this will provide free or expanded access to such news and entertainment sites as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, USA Today, Apple's iTunes and AOL's Patch.

Note that both the free WiFi and the Digital Network will be available only in the stores the company operates directly, not those licensed to other operators in such locations as supermarkets and airports.

Coffee, tea and chai drinkers, what say you about Starbucks's move? Would free WiFi make you more likely to look for that ubiquitous green-and-white logo, then linger over a latte? Or are your default settings already fixed at Anything But Starbucks?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  June 14, 2010; 4:26 PM ET
Categories:  Digital culture , Telecom  
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The good news is it will be free. The bad news is that means more users and even slower speeds than you get currently. Not necessarily a bargain!

Posted by: marcweiss | June 14, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Of course, free Wi-Fi is better than paid Wi-Fi. And yes, maybe it will increase the customer count. Panera Bread already has free Wi-Fi, right? If I want to use Wi-Fi, I'll look for free access.

Posted by: John991 | June 14, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

The only problem at Panera is the number of people that have no problem with taking a table for four or a booth and spending hours using their computers, frequently only purchasing a cup of coffee or soft drink, and denying "paying" customers a place to to sit and eat. Many of the linger-ers don't see any problem with operating their business from a Panera table or booth, saving on having to work from a place that requires payment. What's worse is watching some of the linger-ers who have no aversion to bringing in a cup of McDonald's coffee ("because, you know, it's cheaper than Panera's coffee") and outside food (sometimes from McDonald's and sometimes, obviously, from home. And, as I saw this weekend, one person upset when it was "suggested" that he not refill his McDonald's coffee cup with coffee from the Panera urn; it would have been one thing if he had paid for a refill but, as Panera says, unlimited refills are free.

As one who's used Starbucks' two-hours daily wifi on rare occasions, while I applaud the new free wifi system, I had no problem with registering my card. After all, Starbucks is in business to make business. Asking me to do the minimum isn't asking too much of me.

Posted by: Dungarees | June 14, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

I bet all the Starbucks littered throughout airports will be excepted. And they are definitely Starbucks-owned.

Posted by: evietoo | June 14, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

Today's announcement from Starbucks makes no difference to me. I will continue to boycott Starbucks as long as they allow people to carry hand guns in their coffee shops.

Posted by: dgloo | June 14, 2010 5:41 PM | Report abuse

In a pinch, Starbucks new policy may bring me into their stores but I have become accustomed to going to independent coffee shops that have had free wifi all along. Most libraries offer free wifi as well and their chairs are more comfortable. Subway offers free wifi as well. For some reason Starbucks coffee seems much more acidic and caffeine loaded than other coffees. I like dark rich but smooth coffees.

Posted by: mountainsister41 | June 14, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

I like the part with free access to the New York Times and iTunes along with the WiFi. Why not add WaPo too?

Posted by: Hopeful9 | June 14, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

Keep in mind that the "free" WiFi in public places might cost you a bundle if a hacker is eavesdropping. Many people have NO idea that it is very easy to "listen in" on their WiFi session at Starbucks (and every other place that provides public WiFi access). Your passwords, everything you're viewing on your browser screen: totally eavesdroppable by anyone in the neighborhood (unless you're using a VPN -- if you don't know what that is, you're not using it). Enjoy the "free" WiFi!

Also: Why does Starbucks get all the grief over "allowing" legal handguns in their shops? I'm pretty sure there's not a single major national chain that bans legal handguns in their shops. Why no boycott of McDonalds, Safeway, Exxon, and Macy's?

Posted by: kcx7 | June 14, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

As if those losers who spend their entire day with their laptops at Starbucks need any more reason to hang out there (and take up all the seats!).

Posted by: carbon916 | June 14, 2010 7:32 PM | Report abuse

Too little, too late for me to be a customer again...

Posted by: raykoch73 | June 14, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

I would not use it normally and instead stick with my cellular provider, mainly because of security and service reliability concerns (slower, but more predictable than Wi-Fi). But Wi-Fi could be a backup or used when you want to stream video or something like that and not cut in to your monthly data allocation.

Posted by: RepealObamacareNow | June 14, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

Well, obviously, the people bringing their food in from McD's were those who'd taken the time to compare nutritional information: Panera will kill you faster than McDonald's will, and that's without the stress of waiting for a table to become vacant.

Free wifi is great as long as we're not gonna get busted for lurking outside.

Posted by: Bush--notrelated | June 14, 2010 10:46 PM | Report abuse

I've got a novel idea ... why not offer BETTER COFFEE!! The regular coffee sucks and all the specialty drinks are too bitter. They deliberately over roast their beans. So when they get good coffee, then I'll go back. Used to got to Borders 3-4 nights a week, but they switched to Seattle's Best a couple years back -- a Starbucks off-brand -- and I can count on one hand the # of times I've been there since!

Posted by: chris-gso | June 14, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

I understand them feeling they should, but really? After all, all one had to do was buy a Starbucks card, register it on the Starbucks website, and there you go.

Removing the 2 hour limit will increase the freeloaders who won't spend much if any money, and keep the people who would spend money unable to get a seat. And if there are enough of them, Starbucks may find they can't afford to give free Wi-Fi to freeloaders or all-day abusers.

I have a registered Starbucks card and keep it stocked. Two hours a day seems more than enough (there are ways to get more if you really need it). But also because the Card works around the world (they do the currency conversion, so a $5NZ coffee doesn't cost $5US).

Posted by: lmb02 | June 15, 2010 12:00 AM | Report abuse

Why attach strings to WiFi access? It's cheap to install and offer for free. What are they doing with the information they gather from card registration? When is it going to be free in all airports?

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | June 15, 2010 1:02 AM | Report abuse

As an iPhone and iPad owner, I use my free Wi-Fi from AT&T most of the time, including with my MacBook Air. But, Starbucks' new policy will make it easier to sign in at some locations, since there will no longer be any need to go through connection rigmarole. But, I think quality is the best reason to prefer Starbucks' Wi-Fi signals over some small coffee shop's barely functional Linksys 'g' router. They use T1 of higher and the plan is to put actual servers in stores.

And, alarmists aside, the Wi-Fi at places like Starbucks is encrypted better than most people's home setups. It is not true that anything you do on a public Wi-Fi network can be sniffed. Sounds like something a person so paranoid he thinks he needs to take a gun to Starbucks would say.

Posted by: query0 | June 15, 2010 4:55 AM | Report abuse

Geez, I thought that was the whole reason why people actually hung out there. I am so out of the loop, never really got into that lug my lap top around, and drink bitter coffee while lounging at a Starbucks the new McDonalds of the 21st century. Whatever!

Posted by: keithlb28 | June 15, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Seeing as I'm only in Starbucks when I have a gift card, it won't make a difference to me. Of course, if I did need to connect quickly on the go, I'd sit in the parking lot and get the signal there.


Posted by: SamFelis | June 15, 2010 10:33 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: charlietuna6661 | June 15, 2010 1:46 PM | Report abuse

Hey charlietuna6661, at least they have a sense of humor and know how to have a good time. Better than going through life in a misery.

Posted by: jckdoors | June 15, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Here in the east, both Micky D's and Wendy's have had free WiFi for some time. Convenient when I'm traveling to and from meetings and need to take a break and check email. (Corporate phone doesn't have Internet access.) Will I go to Starbucks for their free access - no, I'm not a Starbucks fan and don't drink coffee ever. I'd rather have a biscuit than the typically dry SB muffins anyway.

Posted by: SuzeVA | June 15, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Why can't we be civil to each other? Why all the hate even by thse who don't like Starbucks! So don't go there!

Posted by: adghfg | June 15, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Wow, they might have something here. If only they could make even a semi-palatable cup of coffee.....

Posted by: Trout1 | June 15, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Here in Louisville, a local chain, Heine Brothers, has had free wi-fi for years. In fact, when I go online there, I actually have to decline being connected via the Staples next door which also offers free wi-fi and overlaps the front of the store. Over the past couple years, the store has supplied me with a lot of caramel lattes, so their business model, as far as I am concerned, made a lot of sense. The college kids from across the street also grab tables, buy coffee and snacks, and go online. This sounds like another area where DC area gets shafted by extra fees while flyover land wonders what the fuss is all about. The only time I have paid for wi-fi in the past couple years has been when flying into or out of DC National or Dulles, where some pirates actually try to charge you to go online via wi-fi. I just wait until my next stop in airports like ABQ or SDF, where the wi-fi is free.

Posted by: Stamm441 | June 15, 2010 5:30 PM | Report abuse

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