Starting July 1, Starbucks is joining fellow AT&T-wifi-hotspot-users McDonalds and Barnes & Noble in offering free wireless Internet access to all comers. Presently, the AT&T hotspots at Starbucks locations require that users pay a fee for access (except for AT&T iPhone subscribers, who get access free) or else register for a Starbucks card.

But its plans go farther than just free wifi—in the fall, Starbucks is also rolling out free access to paid content such as the Wall Street Journal, and other exclusive material, for those who surf the Internet from its locations.

Wi-Fi Net News looks at the increasing availability of free wifi and the decline in paid wifi as time goes on.

Beyond AT&T, who is left paying? There is still plenty of for-fee Wi-Fi if you look for it—or are caught in the wrong place. Most premium hotels still charge for Internet service, whether wired or Wi-Fi, while budget and mid-range hotels went free years ago. Yes: pay less for a hotel, and you get a $10-$15/night service at a luxury inn thrown in for free. (In Europe, hotels may charge remarkable amounts, such as $30 to $40 per day for access.)

All of this is quite good news for mobile Internet readers on the go, especially those who would like to view premium content such as Wall Street Journal articles without having to subscribe. The added content will certainly give Starbucks an advantage over the local coffee shops that already offer free wireless Internet.


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