What Starbucks’ Free Wi-Fi Service Means for Media

Productive freelancers, and a digital network that, if successful, could provide a little revenue

At a Wired magazine conference on Monday, Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz announced that beginning on July 1, the chain will begin offering free Wi-Fi – through AT&T — at all of its 6,700-plus company-operated U.S. stores.

Starbucks also announced a partnership with Yahoo to launch the Starbucks Digital Network, a store-only digital channel, with content from iTunes, the New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Zagat and, interestingly, Patch – AOL’s hyperlocal network.

"Free Wi-Fi is in my mind just the price of admission,” Schultz said. “We want to create new sources of content that you can only get at Starbucks.”

Terms of the deal with content providers are not being disclosed. The digital network is slated to launch in the fall.

For media, in the short-term, it means freelancers will be a lot more productive, if not caffeinated. (No longer will they be forced to steal free Wi-Fi from nearby apartments.)

In the long term, if Schultz is right, the digital network could provide an additional revenue stream for content providers. Even more, it could provide a blueprint for other free Wi-Fi hubs to launch digital networks, too. McDonald’s already offers free Wi-Fi, as do independent coffee houses.

As Schultz noted: "This is a thing that doesn’t exist in any other consumer marketplace in America.”