Starbucks providing FREE WI-FI in stores!

Starbucks has issued a press release stating that Wi-Fi is now available for FREE at U.S. and Canadian stores. This of course delighted freeloaders across North America, but probably causes no small amount of annoyance to baristas who already think customers sit there too damned long taking up space.

I see (and agree with) both sides of that equation. Here, check out the press release:

SEATTLE, June 30, 2010 – Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) will turn on free Wi-Fi with one click on July 1 at U.S. and Canadian company-operated stores as a part of its ongoing commitment to enhancing the customer experience. Customers with Wi-Fi-enabled laptops, tablets and mobile phones will have unlimited Internet access to surf the Web, connect with social networks, search for jobs or work at their neighborhood Starbucks. Most recently, the free Wi-Fi benefit was limited to two hours a day and only available to members of the My Starbucks Rewards program. The new, unlimited Wi-Fi offering features a one-click entry point, so a username or password will not be required.

“Our customers were asking for a simplified Wi-Fi offering, and free Wi-Fi has been a top request on MyStarbucksIdea.com. We’re excited to turn this feedback into action and believe our customers will be delighted with the enhanced experience they’ll find in Starbucks stores,” said Howard Schultz, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Starbucks.

Starbucks will continue to work with AT&T in the U.S. as its Wi-Fi provider, a relationship that’s been in place since 2008. Close to 6800 Starbucks locations are part of AT&T’s U.S. Wi-Fi network, the nation’s largest. In Canada, more than 750 company-operated stores will now have free Wi-Fi. Bell is the Wi-Fi provider in Canada and has worked with Starbucks since 2005.

As Schultz noted at the WIRED Business Conference on June 14th, the addition of one click, free Wi-Fi to the Starbucks customer experience is just the beginning. Later this fall, Starbucks plans to introduce the Starbucks Digital Network, in partnership with Yahoo!. This new online experience, currently planned for U.S. company-operated stores, will offer customers free, unrestricted access to a collection of paid sites and services, exclusive content and previews, free downloads and local community news.

“Bringing one click, free Wi-Fi to Starbucks opens up new opportunities for our customers and gives us the backdrop to continue to bring innovation to their in-store experience. We’re finding new ways to bridge the third place coffeehouse environment with the digital space, and look forward to sharing that with our customers,” said Stephen Gillett, Starbucks executive vice president, chief information officer and general manager of Digital Ventures.

This is a simple one-click process, with no registration required, and it offers UNLIMITED Wi-Fi service throughout the day. I’m sure that by now there are already people who are hanging out for hours, sipping their beverage and taking up space all day long, blissfully ignorant of the other customers angrily glaring at them and pining away for a place to sit.

This is a neat opportunity, but I worry that people will shamelessly exploit it. And as much as I love my new iPhone 4, I REALLY hope we don’t have inconsiderate louts sitting there using the Wi-Fi service for FaceTime!

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