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d63e3 freedompop1 FreedomPop’s Free Wi fi Would Be Cool If It Wasn’t So Shady
Jared Newman / TIME.com

FreedomPop, an organization that sells wi-fi hotspot gadgets with free mobile data, is planning to offer a full-blown cellular service with free voice calls and text messages this summer.

According to AllThingsD, FreedomPop has been amassing a pile of refurbished phones that once ran on Sprint’s 4G WiMax network, such as the Samsung Galaxy SII and HTC Evo 4G, and plans to sell them for under $200 with no contract. In exchange, FreedomPop subscribers will get 500 MB of data and 200 voice minutes (via VoIP) per month, plus unlimited text messages.

FreedomPop hopes to make money by selling add-on services, such as unlimited calling, additional data and faster connection speeds. As AllThingsD’s Ina Fried points out, it’s a strategy reminiscent of dotcom-era companies like NetZero, which gave away basic dial-up Internet service for free. (Incidentally, NetZero rose from the dead recently with free wireless Internet service, but it only lasts for a year before customers must pay for subscriptions.)

Is FreedomPop worth considering? Sure, but only if you’re keenly aware of its hidden costs and gotchas. And from what I’ve seen of FreedomPop’s existing free data service, the company seems to try its best to keep potential users in the dark.

Here are a couple things to know about FreedomPop’s free data service, which is already available today:

  • If you use less than 5 MB of data in a given month, you get charged a $0.99 “Active Status fee.”
  • By default, when you reach your final 100 MB of data in a given month, FreedomPop automatically charges $10 to fill your plan back up. To avoid the automatic charge, you must change your billing settings on FreedomPop’s website.

Finding the above stipulations on FreedomPop’s website isn’t easy. There’s no mention of them on the home page, nor on the terms of service page that’s linked from the home page. You’ll only find them on a separate “Service Plan, Equipment, and Payment Terms” web page, which is linked from the principle phrases of carrier. Even then, the phase about further charges is buried below six different sections of legalese.

FreedomPop does provide subscribers an opportunity to decide out of computerized refills on the ultimate carrier activation web page, however the wording (“To verify uninterrupted carrier, prime up my freedompop account”) is obscure. It doesn’t say that the cost is routine, nor does it point out the a hundred-MB set off.

d63e3 freedompopnotfree FreedomPop’s Free Wi fi Would Be Cool If It Wasn’t So Shady

FreedomPop additionally peppers customers with further bargains right through the signal-up course of, whereas attractive in some basic sneakiness: On one web page, a suggestion for two GB per thirty days is marketed as “one hundred% FREE” and chosen by using default, whereas the high quality print mentions that a cost of $17.ninety nine kicks in after one month. Some other web page deals quicker speeds for $three.ninety nine monthly with an immense inexperienced “Get Supply!” button, whereas the method to cross is introduced in tiny textual content.

Different factors of FreedomPop’s carrier are hidden from potential buyers as neatly. That you would be able to’t in finding out the price of the gadgets with out going during the signal-up course of, all through which it’s a must to enter an email handle and mailing deal with. And whereas FreedomPop’s house web page advertises 4G speeds, customers should pay $three.ninety nine per 30 days additional to ensure the entire pace that the community permits.

The costs themselves don’t hassle me an excessive amount of. They’re no worse than the under-the-line charges and price-brought services and products of main wi-fi carriers, and if you happen to’re aware of FreedomPop’s insurance policies, it’s indisputably that you can imagine to get free knowledge. I’ve used the carrier in Cincinnati, and it really works.

I simply want that FreedomPop wasn’t so sketchy in the best way it gifts its products and services. It’d be more straightforward to get desirous about the upcoming free wi-fi provider if the corporate was once extra clear. As a substitute, I’m questioning what different new methods FreedomPop will invent to extract cash from unsuspecting customers.

UPDATE: FreedomPop CEO Stephen Stokols wrote in to deal with a few the factors above. First, he brought up that customers obtain an electronic mail alerting them to the $10 automated high-up after they join. FreedomPop started sending these e-mails to new customers about 2.5 months in the past. 2nd, beginning ultimate month, FreedomPop started waiving the $zero.ninety nine “Lively Standing price” for brand new subscribers, and can ultimately be doing so for present customers. It appears FreedomPop is working to handle criticisms, however the firm nonetheless has extra work to do on being up entrance about the price of the hardware and different charges prior to folks join, no longer after they’ve exceeded over private small print and/or fee data. That difficulty, blended with the extra services and products that FreedomPop tries to sneak earlier new customers, is what in some way leaves a bitter style, now not the costs themselves.

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