US wireless carriers are starting to sell netbooks the way they sell mobile phones. You can pick up a mini-laptop with low up-front cost thanks to a subsidy, but you have to sign up for a 2 year contract to get that price, which means the network locks in a paying customer at up to $60/month for 24 months by knocking $100 or $200 off the price of the equipment. All in all, it’s not a bad deal for anyone (unless you weren’t already planning to sign up for a 2 year 3G service contract).
But AT&T tells the folks at Wired that the company doesn’t want to treat netbooks just like cellphones. AT&T and other wireless providers regularly give away some cellphones for free in order to attract customers. But AT&T has no plans to give away a netbook anytime soon. Instead, the company will keep keep offering discounts for existing netbooks. Right now AT&T offers three models on its netbook page: The Dell Inspiron Mini 10, Lenovo S10, and an Acer Aspire One. All feature deep discounts, selling for $100 to $150. But none are available for free.
The good news is that AT&T is also planning on offering no-contract 3G access to its network for customers willing to pay full price for a mobile broadband-ready netbook. You’ll be able to get day, or week-passes to the service for a fee.