AT&T again offers, then rescinds free Wi-Fi with iPhone

For the second time, free wireless Internet at the carrier's hotspots including Starbucks was set to become a reality for AT&T iPhone customers; again, the carrier has pulled the offer.

The first time this happened was in late April. While it was not advertised, many iPhone users were able to access AT&T's network through hotspots without having to pay an additional fee or log in. However, the company later relocked those hotspots.

Similarly on May 8, in the promotional text in the carrier's online store, free Wi-Fi access was again advertised. The text was pulled from the site later in the day after only being up for several hours.

This time, the situation is a little different. AT&T actually posted an ad for the feature on its primary Web site, which appeared for a time Friday but was removed during the afternoon.

"AT&T knows Wi-Fi is hot, and free Wi-Fi even hotter, which is why we are proud to offer iPhone customers free access to the nation's largest Wi-Fi hotspot network with more than 17,000 hotspots, including Starbucks. Now users can relax and access music, e-mail, and Web browsing services with their favorite blend in hand from the comfort of their favorite location," the ad text read.

The company claims the posting was employee error, and shouldn't have been live on the site. It declined to either confirm or deny if and when the company was planning to offer free Wi-Fi, although the posting of actual ad text should be a strong indication of an impending launch.

AT&T officials did admit that Wi-Fi was a "strong differentiator" for the company. In any case, Web pundits are criticizing the intermittent nature of the iPhone Wi-Fi offering as a black eye for AT&T

"This latest snafu has to be an embarrassment for the company," Lynette Luna writes for FierceWireless. "It's certainly hard to believe the same mistake could be made twice, but maybe there continues to be some major internal struggle with those who still believe that WiFi could cannibalize the company's 3G business."

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