Starbucks’ WiFi Goes Free; Yahoo Content Partnership Opens Paid Sites

Starbucks Mug

Six months after McDonald’s attempted to woo Starbucks’ customers with the promise of free WiFi at its local franchises, the coffee bar chain will follow suit on July 1. Starbucks’ WiFi service will continue to be run by AT&T (NYSE: T), which also handles McDonald’s and Barnes and Noble’s free connections to in-store customers. Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz made the announcement at a Wired event.

He also noted that Starbucks will be working with Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) to create a digital content network that will be available in the coffee chain’s outlets. In addition to original Yahoo offerings, the content network will also provide Starbucks’ patrons free, complete access to paywall sites like WSJ.com.

Starbucks has about 6,700 stores nationwide and the free WiFi will be turned on July 1. Most recently, Starbucks had somewhat loosened the restrictions on WiFi access in its stores. Lately, users could register for a Starbucks loyalty card that would give them a free internet connection for two hours. After that, patrons would have to pay $3.99 for an additional two hours.

The Yahoo/Starbucks content network is slated to show up on the coffee chain’s users’ computer screens next fall. Aside from WSJ, other content partners in the venture include, iTunes, the NYT, AOL (NYSE: AOL) hyperlocal net Patch, USA Today and Zagat. Starbucks decision to build up its online content offering occurs two years after it started reducing the number of CDs sold in its franchises. Release

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