NetZero to Offer Free Wireless Broadband Service


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United Online Inc. will offer wireless broadband service under its brand NetZero. They're the ones who first offered free dial-up in the late nineties, only this plan won't come with a lot of advertisements to balance the price tag.

But there are plenty of catches. Customers will be required to purchase a $50 antenna or a $100 mobile hotspot to plug into their laptop. The free accounts are limited to 200 MB per month, not much in this day and age. It's fine if you only plan to read e-mails and surf the web, just don't plan on watching too many videos. And the service only lasts a year.

When the monthly data allotment or the one year time limit is exhausted, customers have the option of continuing for a modest price hike of $9.95... Now it's starting to make sense.

NetZero is planning to use the free service to draw people into their paid program, and the kicker is once you opt into the paid version there is no going back.

The $9.95 plan gives you 300 more megabytes, or you can go for broke with the $50 plan, giving you 4 gigabytes. Similar programs are offer by Verizon and AT&T. Verizon charges about $50 for 1 gigabyte.

Though there is a catch with this as well. United Online doesn't have its own wireless broadband service. They have to piggyback on Clearwire Corp.'s network. You may know them as the providers of "Sprint 4G" service.

And there's more. Clearwire's broadband technology has been bypassed by the industry at large, making device compatibility an issue. The reason is that the frequency it uses has difficulty traveling through buildings. Sprint bypasses this by using a fallback option when signal strength is low. NetZero doesn't have that option. What's more, Clearwire is no longer expanding this service, choosing to invest its money in 4G LTE.

So if you don't mind using an already outdated service, never using your computer inside, purchasing $50 worth of equipment for a "free" service, and only having enough data to read e-mails, this service is for you. I will be paying a little extra for full service.