T-Mobile filed a complaint in New York's Supreme Court over the Starbucks Card Rewards free Wi-Fi launched this week: T-Mobile spokesperson Peter Dobrow said this evening that his firm was surprised when the free Wi-Fi was launched in every market, because T-Mobile wasn't party to that deal. "Starbucks launched this promotion without involving T-Mobile," he said. Dobrow said that T-Mobile continues to operate 95 percent of the Starbucks locations in the U.S. under contract as AT&T transitions into its role as the new operator.
The lawsuit, which I've read (GigaOm also posted it), says that T-Mobile never agreed to nor was compensated for providing free service in stores. A link to AT&T's network in all markets except San Antonio, Tex., and Bakersfield, Calif., is handled on the backend entirely by T-Mobile. The suit notes, "If AT&T or Starbucks wanted to offer 'free' Wi-Fi in non-transitioned stores for Starbucks customers, as they are now doing, they should have--and, indeed, were contractually required to--negotiate such an arrangement with T-Mobile."
The crux is that while T-Mobile did agree to provide free roaming to AT&T subscribers, as defined in a bilateral roaming agreement the two firms signed, T-Mobile states the agreement doesn't allow other parties to roam for free. (That's most likely why we haven't seen AT&T's roaming partners, like Boingo and iPass, appear in the login menu, too.)
Representatives of Starbucks immediately available on a Friday night. A Reuters report quotes a Starbucks spokesperson who doesn't comment directly on the suit.
An AT&T spokesperson said via email that the company doesn't comment on other companies' lawsuits. AT&T is not a party to the suit, although it is mentioned throughout.
The lawsuit provides quite a bit of previously private detail about the transition agreement. T-Mobile says that the transition contract signed by all three parties, T-Mobile still had responsibility for and ownership of a market until all equipment in all stores in a defined market belong to AT&T. The agreement also called for exclusive roaming only for each party's existing subscribers in markets that were converted or still under T-Mobile's control until 4-Jan-2009.
T-Mobile states in the suit that they didn't learn of the planned launch of the free Wi-Fi service until 30-May-2008.
T-Mobile wants money, release from current obligations, and other damages. I expect that things have gone quite far for them to file a suit.
"We hope to come to an amicable solution, and sometimes you do have to file a complaint in order to make that happen," T-Mobile's Dobrow said. "It's easy to give something away for free if it's not yours."