Starbucks' Free Wi-Fi Deal Not As Good As Its Coffee

Dennis Faas's picture

It has long frustrated me that I can't saunter into my local Starbucks, buy my favourite over-priced java, slide into an over-sized comfy chair, and browse the Internet. Well, actually, I could, but I would have to pay around $30/month to get it. For most Starbucks customers, myself included, the price of a coffee is high enough.

Independent coffee shops have had a long tradition of offering free Internet access to customers. The logic is that, if you give them Internet, they are likely to stay longer and buy more. Plus, independent owners are often less the boardroom, bottom-line driven businessmen than the indie coffee shop types.

Starbucks and AT&T have unveiled a new plan to sweeten the deal with customers over WiFi. Customers who register their Starbucks Cards (prepaid coffee cards) with at least 5 dollars get 2 consecutive hours of free access a day. AT&T customers get free access by virtue of already being registered with the service provider. Anyone not wishing to purchase the Starbucks Card can pay the $3.99/2 hours of access. (Source:

What is not immediately obvious on the coffee giant's website is that subscribers to the prepaid card "must agree to receive up to four email messages per year from AT&T Inc." They must also use their card "at least once every 30 days." (Source:

Buried even further in the fine print is the terms of service, which severely limit the types of activities users can engage in. Access is limited to 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." As Glenn Fleishman at PCWorld points out, users are prevented from doing all the fun stuff, like streaming videos, Skype, or instant messaging.

Overall, the deal isn't that bad. The real drawbacks are the limitations on access and the annoying, but overall infrequent, emails from AT&T.

If you want to just be able to check your email and read the news and have your coffee, you're all set. YouTube aficionados may be a little cheesed-off, though.

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