Businessweek Archives

Starbucks Wi-Fi: From first to last


My son, a college student, says that he’s recently been studying at a Starbucks. Why? Because they “don’t have Wi-Fi.” This means he doesn’t get distracted by the Internet, as he does in all the other coffee shops in Madison, WI, that have free Wi-Fi.

The irony is that Starbucks was once famous for its Wi-Fi. Early this decade, Starbucks with a Wi-Fi pioneer. (Here’s Heather’s 2003 cover on Wi-Fi.) Now, because Starbucks dares to charge for Internet access, they might as well not have it—at least in my son’s eyes.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, it’s interesting to read that 2003 story and see what we saw—and what we underestimated. We stressed the guerrilla power of Wi-Fi, new networks emerging from the grassroots. But the real change, I think, was the ubiquity and the growing appeal of the laptop. I think this was especially important for the media. People suddenly could access everything from the New York Times to blogs in a lounge chair, in a coffee shop.

As long as people were glued to PCs to experience electronic media, the world of atoms stood a chance. Electrons were tethered. Paper was mobile. With Wi-Fi (and the growth of cellular delivery) those of us in traditional media no longer dominate that mobile realm, and don’t we know it.


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