What do you do after everybody in the country has already signed up for a two-year contract to get a cheap cell phone? Looks like AT&T thinks that signing them up for a two-year contract to get a cheap netbook might be the next step. The company has announced that it’s experimenting in company-owned stores in Atlanta and Philadelphia with various package deals for mobile broadband and DSL service, some of which involve subsidized netbooks (or “mini laptops” in AT&Tspeak). Sign up for both mobile broadband and DSL for two years, and the cheapest of AT&T’s netbooks goes for $49.99.
The deal reduces the cost of the computer to half of what RadioShack charges for its discounted netbook. Of course, since AT&T’s offer requires both mobile and home data plans, the monthly cost is a lot higher.
The most interesting thing about AT&T’s test–other than the prospect of buying a computer for less than the price of a high-end steak–is that it’s not limited to one model from one company: It’s selling an Acer Aspire, two Dell Minis, and the LG Xenia, as well as Lenovo’s ThinkPad X200 (a full-sized ultraportable laptop). If it likes what it learns in Atlanta and Philly and rolls the offers out nationwide, your local AT&T store could end up devoting a meaningful amount of its floor space to computers. I’m still wary about committing to contracts to get cheap hardware–especially cheap hardware in categories that are evolving as rapidly as netbooks are–but I’ll be interested to see if these offers make sense to enough consumers to make them worth AT&T’s while.