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Phone companies subsidizing the cost of new handsets are extremely common. Anytime you sign a year or two year contract and walk away with a fancy new phone, they are counting on the fact that the monthly bills you pay will more than make up for the subsidized device. Are they looking to expand beyond cell phones, however, and venture into the world of laptops paired with data cards?
A recently leaked RadioShack ad is leading us to believe that, indicating that AT&T is going to be offering the Acer Aspire One, normally a $499 machine, for a mere $99. Of course, that extremely nice price tag is dependent upon you signing a 2-year data plan, at a rate of $60 a month. On the one hand, that's actually a fairly nifty combo - you get a netbook with a data card, giving you Internet access just about anywhere, for only $100. On the other hand, that $60 a month will add up quickly.
However, if you were thinking of getting a data plan anyway, it would be a nice deal. Will other carriers begin doing the same with netbooks? It seems like a logical step, and a way for them to get people into using the cellular data plans. With most providers having fairly low bandwidth limits on data plans, it's a lucrative market for them, and the incentive for people who want extremely cheap laptops is there. It also helps push these devices truly as "Netbooks", tiny portable laptops capable of Internet access nearly anywhere.