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Free PCs not so free?
Everyone has heard about how you can receive a "free PC" in numerous advertisements. Of course, everyone would like to have a "free PC". If someone wants to give you something for free shouldn't you take it? All they want you to do is to sign up for 3 years of Internet service. Which you need anyway, right?
Well, like everything else in life, there are several shortfalls with Internet rebates that you need to understand before you sign your name on the dotted line.
Prior to Signing Up for the Rebate
There are several things you need to do before signing up for an Internet rebate. The first, and most important, thing is to make sure the Internet Service Provider (ISP) has a local phone number that you can connect to. Visit your ISP's website and review their Internet access numbers for your city. If you are unsure whether or not a number will incur long distance charges, the best thing to do is dial the number and see if you connect to the ISP's modem (you will here a several whines and then a loud static sound). If this doesn't work, shop for a different rebate program.
Once you know you can connect to a local line, the next thing you have to do is to make sure you have a credit card in good standing for the ISP to bill. Billing from the ISP will automatically be charged monthly to the card. Make sure you notify your ISP if you need to change your credit card number for any reason, otherwise, you might unintentionally default on your agreement.
Last, make sure you are running the correct operating system for the ISP's service. If your new computer is a Mac, make sure the ISP provides software and services for Macs.
Signing the Internet Contract
You might ask yourself, "If the PC is free, why do I have to sign an Internet rebate contract?" The answer is that yo have to sign a contract because you are agreeing to pay $20 or more per month for 3 years of Internet service. You get a "free PC" or a $400 Internet rebate, however, you must make a payment on your credit card for the next three years.
It is easy to forget that with all the excitement of receiving a free PC or $400 Internet Rebate that you are obligating yourself to a 3 year contract (most Internet Service Provides now also allow rebates for 1 or 2 year agreement periods). So what happens if you sign up for 3 years, receive your $400 dollar instant credit, and decide to stop the service a year later? Unfortunately, many Internet contracts require you to pay back the entire $400 credit if you do not pay for the service term you agreed to. As with other contracts, make sure you read your entire contract and make sure you understand the consequences of terminating your contract early.
So you are sure you have a local dial-in number, a credit card for automatic billing, a compatible operating system, and you understand the Internet contract. Now you need to decide whether or not you should sign up.
Rebate Decision Math
You might be asking yourself, "Are rebates really worth it?" Well let's do a little math. The average offer is to sign up for 3 years and pay $20 or more per month. So Internet service will cost you $240 per year or $720 for three years. So that's not so bad. After all, you would pay that much to connect to the Internet anyway - or would you?
Maybe next year you will decide that dial up Internet is too slow and you would rather have a DSL or cable connection. Or maybe you don't like the Internet service you receive -- then what? Well unless you receive a sympathetic ear from your provider, you are stuck for the 3 years unless you want to pay penalties for canceling your service. Not a very good situation to be in to say the least.
Warning: If you are at all interested in high speed DSL or cable Internet connections, do not accept Internet rebate offers for more than 1 year in length. Most urban areas in the US should have a DSL or cable Internet provider before 2001.
So how does one save some money and still buy a computer? If you simply must save money when you buy your computer, how about using a free ISP? That's right, you don't have to pay anything to connect to the Internet. We reviewed 5 free dial-in ISPs in our article, Review of Free Internet Service Providers. The article also discusses two ISPs which have begun to offer free DSL services.
Time to ShopNow that you understand the ins and outs of using Internet rebates, you should be able to make an informed decision. Whether or not you decide to use Internet rebates, we hope you have a happy computer buying experience.
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