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Starbucks Serves Up Free Wi-Fi

Beverage lovers have been able to surf the Web while slurping, say, a caramel macchiato with non-fat milk, at Starbucks for some time now. But starting next month they'll be able to do it for free.

The trendy coffee house on Monday announced that it plans to offer Wi-Fi Internet connectivity at no charge to customers at all company operated stores throughout the U.S. starting July 1. Starbucks will deliver the service through partner AT&T.

Speaking at Wired's Disruptive By Design business conference Monday, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz also outlined the java joint's plans to revamp its online presence through an alliance with Yahoo.

The Starbucks Digital Network will give customers free access to premium Web sites such as the Wall Street Journal's, as well as free downloads, and local news and information.

The Starbucks Digital Network will go live in the fall, the company said.

Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO in 2008 with an eye to revitalizing the franchise. "Schultz recognized customers' desire for a better in-store Wi-Fi experience," the company said in a news release.

The electronic initiatives are led by a new business unit—Starbucks Digital Ventures—the company recently established in order to take better advantage of social media sites like Facebook and other online outlets. Overseeing the unit is CIO and general manager Stephen Gillett.

Other launch content providers include USA Today, The New York Times, Apple's iTunes, and restaurant guide publisher Zagat.

Starbucks shares were up 1.62%, to $27.59, in the final hour of trading Monday.