AT&T announced that it will start selling netbooks for as low as $50 in some trial markets with a two-year service contract. The company will offer the Acer Aspire One, Dell Inspiron Mini 9 and Mini 12, and LG Xenia netbooks--as well as the Lenovo ThinkPad X200 laptop--at subsidized prices in Atlanta and Philadelphia.
To get the lowest prices, however, you must commit to several AT&T services, and the pricing is not the same in both cities. In Atlanta, if you commit to a plan that includes home basic DSL and a 200MB per month DataConnect 3G plan (and access to AT&T's 20,000 WiFi hotspots) starting at $60 per month, the netbooks will range from $49.99 to $249.99, and the ThinkPad X200 costs $749.99. With a 3G plan only (AT&T's 5GB data plan costs $60 per month), the hardware costs more. In addition, in Philadelphia AT&T doesn't offer home DSL, so the lowest-priced netbook will start at $100.
Since December 2008, Radio Shack has been selling the Acer Aspire One with AT&T DataConnect 3G service for $99.99. During a keynote speech at CTIA Wireless in Las Vegas earlier today, Verizon Wireless execs appeared to confirm that they have similar deals in the works, but declined to give any details. In Western Europe and Japan, netbooks are sold at very low cost--or even for free--with mobile broadband plans.
At $60 per month, the data plan adds $1,440 to the cost of your netbook over two years, but if you already plan to purchase wireless data, then it can obviously be a good deal. Just make sure you pay the bill: Also at CTIA Wireless, LM Ericsson AB announced a 3G laptop modem with a "kill switch" that would allow carriers to remotely disable a netbook so that it no longer boots, though the feature is more likely to be used by enterprises to secure data on lost laptops. BlackBerries already have a similar feature, and Lenovo recently said it is developing a remote kill switch for its laptops.