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A Tech-Econ Mashup with a Libertarian Flavor

Starbucks Ban Laptops?

That’s the question posed by CNET, as apparently several NYC coffee shop owners are restricting the time they allow their patrons to squat on their wifi networks, sans-beverage:

Some coffee shop owners in New York even cover up electric outlets, so that the enterprising, the impoverished students, the merely very lonely or the merely very brazen cannot boot up, sip java, and take up valuable table space all day. Which leads one to wonder just how painful it would be if Starbucks took their lead and banned laptops throughout its vast network.

So, should Starbucks follow suit and place limits on the amount of time customers can hook up to their wifi? My answer is an emphatic “heck no!” Give me your geeky, your parched. If I owned a coffee shop in a neighborhood where my competitors were kicking people out, I’d add more outlets, more seating, and more drink options at various price points to encourage all-day websurfers to approach the counter again. $6.50 for a coffee, with free refills all day? The customers spend their money upfront and stick around for as long as they like. $1 sodas or iced teas? That’s a ridiculously good deal when making a decision at the margin. Food-and-drink specials? Whatever gets a customer to spend their money and have a good experience at my coffeeshop. There’s no need for  some snooty barista to shoo them away once their drink is gone.

There’s an obvious market demand for “free” wi-fi (by “free” I of course mean at the point of use – obviously the costs are hidden in the price of drinks and food). Any enterprising business owner would seek to meet that demand, especially when his or her competitors turn a blind eye to it.

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Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.
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