PROS / You can get a free plan with 200MB a month for a year; you just have to buy NetZero’s hotspot.
CONS / Though they start slightly cheaper than most providers, NetZero's plans become very expensive very quickly.
VERDICT / NetZero's offerings may be fine on the low end, but they get pricey the more data you need. Given the general weakness of Sprint’s network, most people will want to look higher on our lineup.
Founded in 1998 as the nation's first free internet service provider, NetZero made a name for itself by offering highly affordable access in the early days of the web. Today, it has dial-up, DSL and mobile broadband plans, with the latter operating off Sprint's nationwide network. NetZero's at-home internet plans are inexcusably outdated. Its wireless options are better, though not by much, offering average connectivity for sub-par prices. The company isn't a standout, but for extremely low-use customers, it could be your ticket to portable internet.
NetZero offers six different mobile broadband plans, ranging from a mere 200MB to a sufficiently sizable 6GB. The 200MB plan is notable for being free, at least for the first year, while the 500MB option is just $10 a month. From there, it starts being more economical to go with another provider: Its 1GB plan costs $20 when you could get 2GB for the same price at T-Mobile. Its 2GB plan cost $37.90 after you count the line access fee for the mobile hotspot. The 4GB level costs $52.90, slightly more than the $50 you’d pay at Verizon for the same amount of data and exceedingly better coverage. At $82.90, again after the line access fee, NetZero's Platinum Plus 6GB plan is $20 more than you'd pay at Verizon, and a staggering $50 more than T-Mobile – and you’d be on a better network in either case.
If all you're after is cheap mobile internet, even if your data allocations are low, NetZero is a surprisingly great deal. 200MB of free data is nothing to scoff at, assuming that's all you need. But laptops tend to eat a lot of bandwidth, and if you want to stream music, watch videos or do anything beyond occasionally checking your email, you need a larger data pool. It's common for mobile hotspot owners to top 8GB or even 10GB of data without breaking a sweat.
Fortunately, NetZero doesn't charge any arbitrary fees to its customers. There are no activation fees when you buy a new hotspot, and there are no data overage fees because there are no overages; once you hit your data cap, your web access shuts off. Since NetZero isn't a contract provider, you also don't have to worry about early termination fees.
The name NetZero feels dredged up from the history of the internet, and the company’s service and value is similarly lackluster. If your broadband needs are particularly small, you can probably save a decent amount of money by picking one of its low-tier mobile internet plans over the competition. Just be sure you don't need too much web access every month; NetZero's prices escalate quickly.