Starbucks Wi-Fi Comes with AT&T Limits

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Starbucks launched its customer loyalty program today that brings with it free Wi-Fi via AT&T. The deal offers two hours each day starting from when you log in that day for 30 days following a purchase of any amount with a Starbucks Card, or after you add more money to a card. AT&T also offers a variety of free access to its DSL, fiber, and business customers, and will offer roaming to iPass, Boingo, and other aggregators.

But that's not what caught my eye. The terms of service that AT&T offers for its free flavor of Wi-Fi, distinct from their and T-Mobile's monthly subscriber terms. (AT&T is taking over the Wi-Fi service at Starbucks from T-Mobile.)

"You agree that all connections to the Internet via ATTIS's connectivity shall be for the limited purposes of accessing electronic mail, operating a basic web browser such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, or downloading files via the 'ftp' protocol typically implemented in web browser programs."

This is to laugh for a few reasons. First, they're asking us in exchange for limited free service as a loyalty offering to use email, a Web browser, and FTP for download only. That means that you can't stream video, make a phone call, use Skype, instant message, run a freestanding Internet program of any kind, or upload a photo--or even upload a small document. That's rather absurd. Why include terms that are patently either offensive to the kind of user this service is designed for or ridiculous to enforce? Perhaps they want to avoid people using the free service to swallow bandwidth that they don't use at home. (Given that Time Warner is experimenting in Texas with bandwidth caps and excess fees on cable service, perhaps that's a reasonable fear.)

Second, uh, AT&T? Mozilla called and they said, Netscape Navigator is dead. You might want to know this. The funeral was months ago. Why didn't you send flowers?

The other embarassing factoid here is that Starbucks and AT&T appear to have bungled the launch today. Wi-Fi is just part of what Starbucks is offering to its loyal customers, in exchange for online registration and use of their stored-value card. You also get free refills of drip coffee, free syrups and milk options, and free coffee when you buy beans. But the Starbucks-branded entry point to register the card has been up and down all day. I've been unable to get it work. And, as I write this, the company has posted this message:

"Due to overwhelming interest in Card Rewards we are currently experiencing difficulty accessing Starbucks Cards accounts. We are working to fix the problem and ask that you please try again later."

(Later in the day) A Starbucks spokesperson called me to say that the company's servers were overwhelmed by the interest, and that they'd brought the site back up. Sure enough, I was able to register quickly and without an error. That's what you call an excess of company loyalty by their customers.

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