Accelerating the move toward free Wi-Fi services at nationwide chains, Starbucks Canada has begun offering complimentary wireless connections to customers of Bell Internet, one of Canada's largest ISPs.
Bell Internet subscribers now have access to free Wi-Fi service in more than 650 Starbucks stores across Canada.
The new service "brings customers what they have been waiting for," said Mary Graham, VP of marketing for Starbucks Canada, in a statement, "a high-quality Wi-Fi experience at Starbucks locations that is free and easy to access."
The new offer follows a series of moves by Starbucks to offer free Wi-Fi in its U.S. stores, which have to date been part of T-Mobile's network of paid public hotspots. In June, the coffee-shop giant began offering customers prepaid Starbucks Cards for two hours per day of complimentary Internet access at stores across the United States. To qualify, Starbucks customers must purchase a Starbucks Card worth $5 or more and join the coffeehouse's rewards program.
The service is supported by AT&T, and subscribers to AT&T's residential or small-business broadband packages can also get online for free, without joining the Starbucks Card Rewards program. Starbucks had earlier said that AT&T eventually would become the primary provider of Wi-Fi service at Starbucks branches.
That offer sparked a brief legal dispute between Starbucks and incumbent provider T-Mobile. Days after the June announcement, T-Mobile sued the coffee chain, saying that the Starbucks-AT&T agreement violates its deal with Starbucks. In its complaint, T-Mobile said it had the exclusive rights to "sell, market, and promote its services" in Starbucks stores until a store was converted for AT&T users.
The companies settled the dispute within days, and latte sippers now have a choice of three Wi-Fi plans at Starbucks locations in the United States: T-Mobile's hotspot system, which generally costs around $10 a day; the two-hour free Starbucks Card service; and free unlimited access for AT&T subscribers.
In Canada the breakdown is similar, with Bell Internet substituting for AT&T.
Free Wi-Fi service is among the promotions Starbucks is using to beef up returns from existing stores. Faced with a struggling share price for more than a year, the company in July reported its first quarterly loss since going public in 1992. Calling 2008 "a transitional year for Starbucks," CEO Howard Schultz said the company expects the number of Starbucks in the United States to drop by some 60 stores this year.