The Colorado town where I live hosts 14 free commercial Wi-Fi hot spots, according to the Wi-Fi FreeSpot Directory. Two of those are coffeehouses. The one I frequent -- Serenity Coffee -- isn't listed, but it also has free Wi-Fi access, good coffee, and a comfortable space in which to work.

I mention this because my town also hosts five Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) stores with not-so-free Wi-Fi access supplied by partner AT&T (NYSE:T). "The only requirement is that you need to have a reloadable Starbucks card to get two hours of free Wi-Fi service a day," wrote Foolish colleague Tim Otte in February.

Seems fair. But is this really worth it? Unless you absolutely love Starbucks coffee, you're better off going elsewhere to jack in. Even Tim says so: "I've just started going to Panera Bread (NASDAQ:PNRA) simply because they offer free Wi-Fi access that's easy to connect to."

I've heard this from far too many others, including a Starbucks barista. Wi-Fi, in effect, has become a reason for on-the-go caffeine junkies to try alternatives. Our 125,000-strong Motley Fool CAPS community is concerned about Starbucks, giving it just two stars:

Metric

Starbucks

CAPS stars (5 max)

**

Total ratings

7,300

Bullish ratings

5,763

Percent bulls

78.9%

Bearish ratings

1,537

Percent bears

21.1%

Bullish pitches

1,255

Bearish pitches

405

Note: data current as of Dec. 22, 2008

As CAPS member LoneClapper wrote last week: "Strong competition in specialty coffee will cut margins." Exactly.

The store experience is what sells the coffee, Starbucks. Wi-Fi is key to the experience. Unlock it, or risk losing ground to burgeoning beaneries such as Peet's Coffee & Tea (NASDAQ:PEET).

But that's my take. I'm more interested in what you think. Would you buy Starbucks at today's prices? Would you short it? Let us know by signing up for CAPS today. It's 100% free to participate.

Warm yourself with a cup of related Foolishness:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.