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Starbucks drops T-Mobile for in-store Wi-Fi, adopt AT&T

A few weeks back, I opined on coffee seller Starbucks' recent problems. One of the points I made was that the company just didn't get it when it comes to wireless access: While virtually every other coffee shop on earth is offering free Wi-Fi, Starbucks continued to sell it (via T-Mobile) for extravagant prices. But today, the company announced that it was making a change, one that partially addresses my concern.

AT&T and Starbucks today announced plans to deliver AT&T Wi-FiSM service at more than 7,000 company-operated Starbucks locations across the United States ... Starbucks and AT&T will offer a mix of free and paid Wi-Fi offerings at Starbucks stores to meet the needs of both frequent and occasional Starbucks Wi-Fi customers.

Beginning this spring, Starbucks Card holders can enjoy up to two hours of free Wi-Fi service per day at Starbucks locations offering Wi-Fi access, while more than 12 million qualifying AT&T broadband and AT&T U-verseSM Internet customers will have unlimited free access to the Wi-Fi service. In addition, more than 5 million of AT&T’s remote access services business customers will be able to access Wi-Fi service at Starbucks locations. AT&T will soon extend the benefits of Wi-Fi at Starbucks to its wireless customers.

“This is what our customers have been waiting for — free Starbucks-quality Wi-Fi,” said Chris Bruzzo, chief technology officer, Starbucks Coffee Company.

In addition to the free Wi-Fi access for qualifying AT&T customers and any Starbucks Card holder, customers will be able to purchase tiered access to the AT&T Wi-Fi network at Starbucks at attractive price points. For a two-hour period, customers will pay just $3.99 per session. Monthly membership will also be available for $19.99 per month, and will include access to any of AT&T’s 70,000 hot spots in 89 countries around the world.

So, this is better than nothing. But why doesn't Starbucks just embrace free Wi-Fi across the board? That's a rhetorical question, obviously: I understand there's money involved. But if Starbucks is really concerned about "the experience," it should understand that the experience of signing up for and logging into Wi-Fi at Starbucks, even with this change, is lousy.

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