Starbucks to Offer Free Wi-Fi

Beware: you may soon find yourself painted on a chair at Starbucks. The coffee giant has announced it will be offering free AT&T wireless Internet access to its customers. Starbucks also is teaming with Yahoo to create the Starbucks Digital Network, a proprietary site featuring local content you cannot access anywhere else. Free Wi-Fi comes July 1; the Starbucks Digital Network arrives this fall.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz unveiled both programs at the Wired Business Conference. "Free Wi-Fi is in my mind just the price of admission -- we want to create ... new sources of content that you can only get at Starbucks. This is a thing that doesn't exist in any other consumer marketplace in America," Schultz said.

Cleverly, the Starbucks Digital Network will include tools for job-hunters, including tips for searching and resume-writing, according to The New York Times . Perhaps that'll mean people will keep the loafing to a minimum -- at least that's what Starbucks believes. Stephen Gillett, chief information officer at Starbucks, "does not expect that the free access and content will make people linger longer."

Free Wi-Fi is readily available at many other establishments. Last year McDonald's doused 11,000 of its restaurants with a wireless signal to entice laptop-pecking coffee-drinkers. (For those who associate the largest chain restaurant in the world solely with greasy burgers and salty fries, be reminded that Consumer Reports declared McDonald's coffee better than Starbucks'.)

Two years ago Starbucks attempted -- and failed -- to give out free Wi-Fi. The initial program came with a two-hour time restriction and required a Starbucks card to join. AT&T, who provided the signal, was adamant that it wanted customers to use the access for e-mail, Web browsing, and FTP download only. There was also a sticky lawsuit between AT&T, T-Mobile (who used to provide Wi-Fi for the chain), and Starbucks. Here's hoping Starbucks' new offer comes packaged with less restrictions and complications.

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