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Starbucks to offer free Wi-Fi for cardholders

SEATTLE Starbucks has taken another step to increase store traffic and build customer loyalty by announcing it will offer a mix of free and paid Wi-Fi access starting this spring.

The chain has partnered with AT&T Inc. to offer up to two hours of free Wi-Fi service a day to Starbucks Card holders at more than 7,000 company-owned units in the United States. Other Starbucks customers will be able to buy tiered access to the AT&T Wi-Fi network at Starbucks. Two-hour periods will cost $3.99, and monthly memberships will be available for $19.99 a month, which includes access to AT&T’s 70,000 hot spots worldwide.

More than 5 million users of AT&T’s remote access services will be able to access Wi-Fi service at Starbucks, in addition to more than 12,000 qualifying customers of AT&T broadband and AT&T U-verse Internet services.

More than 100,000 Starbucks associates will receive free AT&T Wi-Fi accounts allowing them to the use the network in Starbucks company-owned units that have Wi-Fi access.

The partnership with AT&T allows Starbucks to expand the digital offerings, such as its iTunes Wi-Fi Music Store, that the chain uses to build repeat visits from existing customers and target new users.

Starbucks said the rollout of the AT&T service, which will occur on a market-by-market basis, is expected to be complete by year-end.

The deal with AT&T apparently ends Starbucks' partnership with T-Mobile, which had been providing paid wireless access in the coffeehouse chain's stores.

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