Netbooks being sold for virtually nothing

By Prasanna Rajagopalan, CBCNews.ca.

Netbooks, the low-cost, low-maintenance, pared-down alternative to laptops, have just gotten a whole lot cheaper.

Or at least that's what U.S retailers Best Buy and Radio Shack would say.

Radio Shack has conveniently eliminated the inconvenience of a retail price. The U.S. retailer is offering Acer Aspire One netbooks for free. The catch? Customers have to sign up for a two-year AT&T mobile broadband contract (starting at $60 a month) to take advantage of the deal.

Sprint, meanwhile, has struck a deal with Best Buy to sell the Compaq Mini 110c-1040DX Netbook (typically retailing at $389.99 US) for $0.99 at its stores across the U.S.

Again, that is contingent on signing up for a 2-year wireless broadband contract. Like AT & T, Sprint's 3G wireless plans start at $60 a month for 5 GB of data.

Subsidized netbook deals aren't uncommon in the United States or in Europe.

Best Buy has similarly teamed up with Verizon Wireless and AT&T to sell the same netbook for $199.99, provided the buyer purchases a two-year contract.

There have been no such subsidized sales of netbooks in Canada, but some analysts say that can't be far off.

Netbook sales accounted for 26 per cent of total computer sales in Canada during the first quarter of 2009, according to market research group NPD.

Canadians have purchased more than 126,000 netbooks worth some $49 million since July 2008. The average price for the devices is $390.

At least one Canadian business seems to have latched on to the appeal of netbooks - Royal Bank in 2008 offered clients a free netbook in exchange for signing up for certain financial products.