Several years ago, my business partner and I picked up T-mobile Hot Spot subscriptions as part of our corporate cell phone accounts. They were incredibly useful at first - any Starbucks I could see was a home away from home. Plus, it was in both the San Jose and (in a very poorly implemented way) Orange County airports - where I spend a whole lot of time.
Over the years, the T-mobile hot spot account has become less and less useful. It's expensive and limiting. For the same price, I can get a Verizon or Sprint data card and use my laptop anywhere. Plus nearly any non-Starbucks coffee place has free wifi anyway. So, I've been researching migrating away.
Today Starbucks announced that they'll be ditching T-mobile and moving to ... AT&T? Now, I know that the Starbucks headquarters, while in high-tech Seattle, is actually located in a once-nearly-abandoned Sears store next to the railroad tracks. But seriously, don't they know that wifi is free in every other coffee shop in Seattle?
Why bother charging for it?
What used to be a reason for me to go to a Starbucks has now become a reason to avoid them. Before there was an open platform, I subscribed to a proprietary one. But now there is a massive open platform in free wifi at other coffee shops. There are also more open proprietary platform with ClearWire, Verizon or Sprint mobile broadband.
Why would I ever go through the hassle of joining a location-locked system like AT&T's or continue using T-mobile's?
A sticky feature can therefore become a repellant one over time.
One last note:
In the comments, Michael Lafferty notes that the T-Mobile service is available all over the place and that Starbucks has made a bad choice in switching to AT&T. Maybe. But given that most other coffee shops have free wifi, it is now seen more as a standard feature than as a value-add. Free wifi is now a cost of doing business for a coffee shop.