Free Wi-Fi at Starbucks, but...

By Peter Nowak, CBCNews.ca

The inexorable spread of free Wi-Fi has taken another step forward with an announcement by Starbucks that it is offering free connectivity at its 650 company-operated stores in Canada. The catch to it is that you have to have home internet service with Bell.

Here's how it works: you need to get a Starbucks card, which is one of those cards you can refill with credit. The cards are free and, for the remainder of the summer, don't need to be registered. Starting in the fall, you'll have to visit Starbucks' website and sign up to the chain's loyalty program (luckily, it's also free of charge). Then, in the stores, you have to enter your bell.ca login to use the Wi-Fi.

From there, customers get two hours of unlimited free Wi-Fi a day. Of course, there's the question of how "unlimited" this unlimited offer truly is. Chances are good there are download limits, since Bell has such limits on its home service, but what are they?

Since the connection is through Bell, there's also the question of whether there will be any other restrictions on how the wireless service can be used. Will customers attempting to use peer-to-peer applications such as Skype or BitTorrent find their Starbucks Wi-Fi throttled, for example?

A spokesman for Bell didn't immediately return queries on these questions, but as soon as we can get clarification we'll pass it on. If you try service, let us know what you think by posting a comment here.

UPDATE: Indeed, thanks to Jimmy in Toronto for noticing the free Wi-Fi extends to all Starbucks customers, not just Bell subscribers. Chalk it up to a poorly worded press release in conjunction with confusing billboards that spin the Wi-Fi as a Bell-specific service. The difference here is that Bell home internet customers get unlimited free Wi-Fi while non-Bell subscribers get two free hours a day. Again, the issue of "unlimited" is up for debate.