Ubiquitous coffee shop Starbucks will now offer free Wifi in all stores after years of charging customers to access the Internet. The policy change goes into effect on July 1 in 6,700 U.S. Starbucks locations. The stores will also offer special Web content designed to bring in customers. Here's why they made the decision and what it means.

  • Starbucks to Provide Exclusive Online Content  ReadWriteWeb's Frederic Lardinois explains, "According to Starbucks, this new service, called the 'Starbucks Digital Network,' will give users who surf the Internet from U.S. company owned stores access to 'various paid sites and services such as wsj.com, exclusive content and previews, free downloads, local community news and activities, on their laptops, tablets or smart phones.' Besides the Wall Street Journal, Starbucks' partners include Apple's iTunes, The New York Times, Patch, USA TODAY, Yahoo and ZAGAT."
  • Each Store Becomes Nexus of Hyper-Local, Targeted Content  Wired's Eliot Van Buskirk writes, "none of Starbucks’ direct competitors have their own localized content networks on the level of what Schulz described. In some communities, Starbucks functions as a sort of community center — a 'third place' between home and the office, in Schulz’s words — and this infusion of local news and information, along with a free way to get it, could enhance that effect."
  • News From the Neighborhood  TechCrunch's Leena Rao explains, "When you go to Starbucks and log-in to wifi, you’ll be served with targeted content and news from Yahoo. Schultz also mentioned that the company is working with AOL to integrate local content from Patch in the network."
  • Your Internet Access Sites: Work, Home, Starbucks  TechCrunch's Leena Rao writes, "Schultz said at the conference that the company aims to launch its own digital network by creating a third place between home and work. Starbucks wants to create proprietary way to give access to new sources of information and content that you can get only at Starbucks. He addded, 'The rules of engagement in building a major brand have changed forever. The consumer is so cynical and distrusting of everything, there has to be a level of intimacy and trust.'"
  • Bringing Competition to McDonald's  The Associated Press calls this "part of an ongoing effort to bring more customers in the door. The Wi-Fi access, which will eventually include a new network of news and entertainment content exclusively for customers, comes as Starbucks works to take business back from rivals like McDonald's Corp. and independent cafes that have long offered free Internet."
  • Closest We'll Get to Universal Free Wifi  Aaron Muszalski tweets, "Sadly, given Starbucks ubiquity, this may be the closest we get to nationwide municipal Internet access for years." LifeHacker's Adam Pash adds, "regardless of the quality of their coffee, I suppose there are worse things than free Wi-Fi on every corner."
  • 'What Took Them So Long'  So wonders liberal blogger Duncan "Atrios" Black. "I've long been puzzled by the persistence of pay-for-Wifi in places like Starbucks and especially at would-be competitors where free wifi could provide them with a bit of an advantage. Maybe they knew what they were doing, or maybe it just hurts to give away anything for free"