Problems in free PC land?
The promise of a free computer has drawn many consumers into contracts that are not necessarily great deals.
Often these offers are tied to very long-term commitments. In other words, a consumer might have to agree to a three-year
commitment to pay for Internet services from a company in order to accept the "free" PC.
Of particular concern to some attorneys is contract structure. Most free PC contracts span up to three years and
typically require the customer to use the advertising-laden ISP that comes with the computer for up to 10 hours per
month. Some firms, such as FreeMac.com, charge for the ISP. Others, including the Idealab-incubated Free-PC, warn that
dial-up access numbers could carry a toll charge. In other words, the PC is not truly free. Government officials, as
well as consumer watchdog groups, want to make sure consumers are aware of this. At least two states (Florida and New
York) have begun probes into the legality of these contracts. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission and Better
Business Bureau reportedly have begun monitoring these companies. The free lunch may be nearing an end.