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Starbucks to serve up free wireless Internet access for all

How about this for a Starbucks order: venti cappuccino with soy milk, two squirts of vanilla syrup — and a side of free Internet.

Starting July 1, Starbucks will offer free wireless Internet at all 6,700 company-operated locations in the U.S., Chief Executive Howard Schultz said Monday. The service will be offered through AT&T Inc., but will no longer require a Starbucks loyalty card, which entitled registered customers to two free hours of access.

Starbucks has about 4,300 franchise stores in the U.S. that will not offer the promotion.

Company-operated U.S. stores will also receive a new online service, dubbed Starbucks Digital Network, this fall, Schultz said. The network, in partnership with Yahoo Inc., will offer unrestricted access to certain paid websites and services such as the Wall Street Journal’s subscription-only content, free downloads, local news and exclusive previews.

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During Wired magazine’s Disruptive by Design business conference Monday in New York, Schultz talked about the challenges he has faced since returning as chief executive in 2008. Schultz said the decision to offer free Wi-Fi came as part of a plan to “embrace social and digital media,” according to a statement on the company’s website.

Starbucks’ move also comes after a decision by McDonald’s six months ago to offer free Wi-Fi at 11,500 U.S. locations. The companies have been at odds since McDonald’s launched its successful, and less expensive, McCafe line of coffee beverages last year.

kristena.hansen@latimes.com


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