About a week ago (I’m behind, but I’m catching up) Xeni, at BoingBoing, reported on a Starbucks announcement that they’ll be giving free WiFi in the U.S. starting in July:
We’re very excited to announce that coming July 1st: Free. 1 click. No registration WIFI at all US locations!
The BoingBoing post has a comment thread filled with
Starbucks sucks stuff, so check that out if you’re so inclined; I recommend avoiding the noise. Other comments note that WiFi is often free in libraries, so one doesn’t need Starbucks for it. More on that later.
Anyway, Starbucks has supposedly been offering free WiFi for some time now, to people who get a Starbucks card and use it to pay for their coffee. That deal has some disadvantages, though, including that you have to click through their setup/login system, and that having a Starbucks card basically means you’re buying your coffee in advance, so you’re paying for your WiFi by giving them your coffee money ahead of time. The New York Times article about the change also says that the free access was limited to two hours, which I hadn’t known.
But the bottom line is that Starbucks is behind the curve, at least in my area. On the point about libraries, Starbucks is not competing with libraries. There’re certainly people who just need a WiFi connection and will go where they have to in order to get it. For them, a library might be fine. But in most cases, libraries aren’t what one is looking for, and they aren’t are as readily available as cafes.
What seems to have broken things open where I live is the Panera chain, which is competition for Starbucks. Panera expanded into these parts within the last year or two, and immediately came with free WiFi in a market that was used to having to pay for it. Very quickly, the places that had been charging, such as Barnes and Noble, switched to free WiFi also, in apparent response to the competition. Atlanta Bread Company went one better and provided WiFi that’s not only free, but that just works — no click-through, no registration or login.
So I can already go to a number of comfortable places to get on the Internet. Starbucks? OK, well, it’ll be nice to have one more choice. But as I said, they’re behind. More so than I.
 Those folks need to get with the program and remember that it’s K-Mart that sucks.