Starbucks brews free Wi-Fi, site access

A man syncs his iPad while visiting a Starbucks in Fort Worth, Texas.


TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal:You either hate Starbucks or you love it. You refuse to be sucked into a giant corporate moneymaking machine that gets four bucks for a cup of coffee. Or, you appreciate a caffeinated drink well made. There are merits to both sides. But Starbucks is doing all it can to change minds. This summer, the coffee shops that are everywhere are also going to become free wireless hotspots. All 76,000 U.S. stores will stop charging for Internet access on July 1. McDonald's did the same thing a number of months ago, making fast food the next best thing to a national wireless network.

Jeff Horwich hooks us up.


Jeff Horwich: Starbucks, lunch hour, downtown St. Paul, Minn. Three people are having a business meeting -- no computer, by the way. Where the heck is everybody?

A barista says maybe try the coffee shop next door, where there's... uh... free Wi-Fi.

Michael Hartford: I think it should be free to customers.

Sure enough. Dunn Brothers Coffee has had free Wi-Fi for years. And there's Michael Hartford, a software developer who pretty much lives from hotspot to hotspot.

Hartford: There's a little bit of noise around, it helps me to concentrate. There's coffee close by...

So he must be excited about the Starbucks Wi-Fi news.

Hartford: They've, really over the last few years, become the fast food of coffee. I wouldn't normally choose to sit down at a Starbucks.

Horwich: So if you're somewhere and there's nothing but a Starbucks nearby, and now the Wi-Fi's free...

Hartford: If they've got coffee and Wi-Fi, I'll go to the Starbucks.

Horwich: That's a corporate victory, right there.

Hartford: I guess.

But Starbucks is hardly the only option. McDonald's has free Wi-Fi. So Starbucks is throwing in free access to some stuff you'd otherwise have to pay for, like articles from the Wall Street Journal or TV shows from iTunes.

That special house blend of Starbucks content rolls out in the fall. Starbucks says it will be ad-free to start. But Eliot Van Buskirk of Wired expects that's likely to change.

Eliot Van Buskirk: You're going to presumably be seeing ads within this content network -- so really, suddenly, it's not such a bad thing maybe for Starbucks to have people loitering around using their Wi-Fi connection.

But it's still all about the coffee. Sure, Starbucks can lead computer users to Wi-Fi. But can it make them drink?

I'm Jeff Horwich for Marketplace.

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