NetZero's back, this time with free wireless broadband?!

Do you remember NetZero? Back in the late '90s, the company offered free dialup Internet access if you were willing to view ads on a little strip on your computer screen while online, but here in 2012, they're offering free 4G cellular broadband connections.

Announced today, the NetZero 4G Mobile Broadband service allows up to 200 MB per month on a free plan, then offers paid service starting at $9.95/month for 500 MB, up to $49.95/month for 4 GB of traffic. There's no contract and no commitment, and you can change plans at any time.

mifi_03 NetZero is offering a $49.95 USB stick for laptop use, or a $99.95 MiFi-like hotspot that will easily support tablets. Those are comparable to the two-year-commitment gadget prices from other carriers, like AT&T, which has its 4G hotspot at $269.95 if you don't want a commitment.

What's the catch? The NetZero service only works on their 4G network, which we gather from other sources (they're not saying) is the Clearwire WiMAX network. That means their 4G signal may not cover where you plan to travel, and if there's no 4G coverage, it can't step down to 3G (or lower) speeds; there's just no connection. Also, NetZero says you can only use the freebie 200 MB/month service for a year before you have to pick a paid plan.

Still, for folks who just need a little light e-mail and web access and are mostly in major urban cores, in airports and perhaps on metro train lines, this is an unbeatable deal. Find out more or order your 4G hardware at