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According to The Wall Street Journal (sub. req'd), Yahoo! will be testing free Wi-Fi at two Starwood-owned hotels:

Seeking new ways to distinguish their respective brands, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. and Yahoo Inc. said they will begin a test of Yahoo Internet lounges in two Sheraton hotels today.

Dubbed Yahoo Link@Sheraton, the lounges opening today in the lobbies of the Sheraton Boston and Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina will be part business center, part Internet cafe. They will have desktop workstations and space for guests to plug in laptop computers. Internet access, including wireless capability, will be free, the companies said.
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A couple of comments:

It's totally annoying to pay $9.95 or more—on top of $200 to $300 (or more) for a room—at a major hotel for slow or "cludgey" Internet access. I dance with glee at the prospect of free Wi-Fi. And if this relationship takes hold and proves to be successful, expect Starwood competitors (e.g., Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt) to try something similar.

Starwood is a global hotel chain:

At December 31, 2004, our hotel portfolio included owned, leased, managed and franchised hotels totaling 733 hotels with approximately 231,000 rooms in 80 countries, and is comprised of 140 hotels that we own or lease or in which Starwood has a majority equity interest, 283 hotels managed by us on behalf of third-party owners (including entities in which we have a minority equity interest) and 310 hotels for which we receive franchise fees.

So if it were to go global (or partly global), it would be a potentially significant deal. We'll see.

Notice also that Yahoo! is doing this without a partner provider. Where else might the company do this in the future?

More at Search Engine Journal.

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