How Starbucks Free WiFi Will Save Me Big Time


In case you hadn’t heard, Starbucks announced they’ll be offering free, unlimited WiFi beginning July 1. Unlike the AT&T-powered wireless service they launched two years ago, this won’t require a login and occasional purchase. And, of course by being “unlimited,” connectivity is no longer restricted to two hours. Most interesting is the “Starbucks Digital Network” which will provide SBUX visitors access to premium web content, like the Wall Street Journal.

I assume Starbucks’ goal is to increase store traffic and thus revenue, something their shareholders will certainly appreciate. However, as a regular I’m a concerned with what could happen to the Starbucks atmosphere. The obvious comparison is Panera, an establishment I no longer patronize on a regular basis. Their overrun environment is more akin to a computer lab or Kinkos than a bakery-cafe these days. (See iMac man, above.)

What you may not have known is that Starbucks has been the unofficial work space of ZNF since our inception. The vast majority of posts are written and site management is typically handled at the ‘bucks in about 60 minutes a day. Basically, SBUX provides a chill environment that isn’t my home and isn’t my office – where I have other responsibilities and distractions. I’m always respectful, taking the smaller table when available and using headphones when/if I have a need for audio. (Something not seen and not enforced in my visits to Panera.)

When ZNF started out, Starbucks offered WiFi subscriptions via T-Mobile. Originally running me $30/month and later $20/mo through Melissa’s cellphone account. “HotSpot” service was more reliable that the two hours of free AT&T wireless that launched in 2008, which periodically drops my connection for unknown reasons. Of course, I almost always have aircards and tetherable devices in my possession. Sort of emphasizing the fact that I’m here for the environment.

Assuming the worst, that ZNF will need to relocate, I ran a quick report on my credit card to see what I’ve spent at Starbucks in 2010. Through 6/13, I’m in for $727.21. Kinda sickening, isn’t it? And not even tax deductible. Plus, I can’t even say my iced coffee tastes great. (Caribou’s cold press is superior.) But it’s been money well spent over the years — ZNF has prospered and the staff at the various ‘bucks has always been good to me. (Take care of your employees, they’ll take care of your customers.)

So I suspect the time has come to move on… And, honestly, I’d rather patronize a local cafe. If one existed. I also have an unused home office which may be in need of a reconfiguration to support ZNF. Regardless, wherever I (and ZNF) lands, I’m sure to start saving money… that is better applied to my ever expanding gadget collection – don’t you think?

14 thoughts on “How Starbucks Free WiFi Will Save Me Big Time”

  1. Just an FYI, I’ve never actually been kicked offline after two hours at Starbucks. Not even a need to re-login or anything like that. (and, I make sure to only stay for extended periods when the place is pretty empty)

  2. ZNF in *the DC area* is based at Starbucks. The Philly-area office is Bear Rock Cafe. :) (was a franchise, now locally owned) Unlimited free Wi-Fi, free coffee refills, and I always get extra strawberries in my fruit cup. In return, I head out when the place gets busy and tables are needed. I also regularly promote the place to other locals.

  3. yeah, I’ve never actually had the 2 hour limit kick me off in several years now. Not sure if this is a glitch or what, but I use it sometimes for several hours on certain days of the week, and in locations around the country as indeed – the sbux can become a usable office when one is on the road. I’ll take a bit of a wait and see with how this will all pan out. My GUT tells me that indeed there will be a total overload of freeloaders and others who just sit, use the internet, don’t buy anything, take up space for paying customers, etc. We’ll see.

    For @dave Is that 721$ all iced coffee? I would guess that of my 350$ YTD (I really only buy a grande coffee – I know, even though a tall with free refills is cheaper!) probably about 150$ is food stuffs

  4. tivoboy, I’ve seen some busy “working” SBUX, but never like Panera. Prior to the new fraps, I was 80% iced coffee (~$2.50) and maybe 20% fraps (~$4.50). Now I’m 100% iced coffee as I don’t care for the new frap concoction. I do get the occasional sandwich. On weekends, Melissa is usually with me – she was all fraps but has also migrated, now to mocha lattes.

  5. the small coffee place around the corner from my house used to have free wifi (and really good mocha cappuccinos), but too many people were using it and the link got saturated.. so here is their new policy:

    “Internet will no longer be an unlimited free service. Customers will receive a code for “one free hour” of internet use with their food or drink order (1 coupon per customer per day). After that hour is used, you can purchase usage by hour, day or month. Please note, wifi is not available on Sat and Sundays until 3pm.”

    its too bad, its a chill non-chain coffee shop with cool atmosphere.

  6. @Dave –
    Good to know that I am not the only one that does not like the New Fraps. I was 100% Venti Mocha Frap. Now I am 0% Starbucks – and saving money :)

  7. That Panera guys looks like mossberg.

    Buy an expresso machine and install it in your home office. :-)

  8. Assuming you claim your ZNF advertising revenue as income (perhaps a wild assumption), you certainly can write off coffee as a valid business expense.

    I used to work in law firms that provide free coffee for all. That was written off by the firm. Since I’ve had my own practice I’ve written off a pro-rata portion of the coffee I drink (including my expensive Peets imports) against my income. I don’t see why you can’t do the same.

    And, as for fear of an explosion of WiFi users, WiFi is becoming free in so many places (eg: every McDonalds), I don’t think we’ll see a huge infux of hungry WiFi searchers. WiFi for free is increasingly ubiquitous.


  9. Not really a wild assumption given the various 1099s that show up in the mail. So yeah, it’s reported. I do write off expenses like hosting (~$100/mo), travel to CES, etc. But never figured coffee would be legit. What I need is a good accountant to optimize this for me.

    Your point about ubiquitous WiFi is a good one and the net gain in users could be marginal. Then again, Via Iced was released this week and I need a good excuse to buy a new desktop computer/LCD.

  10. I know this is an old thread, but I just have to report.
    the WIFI at all the sbux I go to locally has really done to s..t I get about .100kps at most now, no throughput, no luck streaming stock screaners or just FORGET about slingbox streaming. No go at all.

    I think the AT&T has spoken, you can get it for FREE now but we just ain’t going to be providing any realistically usable bandwidth at these locations for NO MONEY.

    I knew this was going to be bad.

  11. new specs.

    laptop users spend ON AVERAGE 1:20
    mobile phone users on AVERAGE : 10-15 minutes

    Study shows stores SEEM more crowded.

    no data on sales volume though, but we’ll see that next month

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