NetZero, which made a big splash around 1998 by providing free ad-supported dial up Internet access, is back with a new offer, free mobile broadband. Actually it's not really free, but it is inexpensive and might be a good choice for some users.
The free broadband is limited to 200 MB/month. To get it you have to buy a $49.95 USB modem or a $99.95 Wireless Hotspot. Shipping on either device is a steep $19.95. The free plan is actually a promotional offer that's only good for the first 12 months. That's definitely not free but it's not a bad deal either. With the cheaper device you end up paying less than $6/month. 200 MB/month is enough for keeping up with email (with images turned off) and a little bit of web surfing and that might be enough for some people.
One of NetZero's paid plans would make a better choice for most users. There are four options; 500 MB/month for $9.95, 1 GB/month for $19.95, 2 GB/month for $34.95 and 4 GB/month for $49.95.
NetZero's service runs on the Clear WiMAX network which provides speeds as high as 10 Mbps with average speeds of about 3 Mbps. Clear's network operates in 80 cities, but coverage tends to be spotty with large dead spots even in major cities like San Francisco. Be sure to study the coverage maps and ask around to be sure Clear will work where you need it.
NetZero's most competitive plans are the lowest priced ones. No one else offers 500 MB/month for under $10. There's a bit more competition at the $20 price point. Virgin Mobile only gives you 500 MB for $20 compared with NetZero's 1 GB. But if you buy your Virgin Mobile USB modem or hotspot at Walmart, Virgin ups the monthly allowance to 1 GB. Virgin is much slower (300 Kbps average) than Clear/NetZero but works in many more places.
NetZero's $49.95 plan can't compete against Clear's own $49.99 plan. Both offer the same speed and coverage but Clear's includes unlimited data compared with NetZero's 4GB, no contest.
I've added NetZero's plans to the US Prepaid Mobile Broadband Plans Compared post which features a table comparing every US operator's prepaid mobile broadband plans.