There's a good story at Wifi Planet:
Wandering Wi-Fi, a hotspot provider based in Atlanta, is upgrading all the equipment SBC had installed in Caribou's venues. "Two years is a long time in a technology era," says John Marshall, president of Wandering Wi-Fi. He says with new equipment supporting the latest versions of 802.11g, "we can do new services. No one knows what'll happen with voice over Wi-Fi, but we wanted a platform in place."
Caribou Coffee CEO Michael Coles says the deal they had with SBC/AT&T had nothing to do with the decision to offer some free access. "We wanted a free model for a long time," he says. "We wanted someone to help us with management, and the relationship with Wandering gives us a great partner."
There weren't many complaints made about the for-pay system with SBC/AT&T, according to Coles, so why offer free service at all? "It's a service we need to offer customers," Coles says. "It's an amenity that creates a differentiating point.... I think the free model is an amenity that, in the future — how long that will be I don't know — customers will expect to find."
Having a cafe w/wifi 800 steps from home (or 2500 steps, if I detour through the neighborhood long enough to clear my voice mail) makes a big difference in my morning routine.