Yes, you can get free access to the internet. Actually, you can get free internet access whether you're a member of the web site or not, but if you're a member, you read the newsletter, and I tell you about it. Non members might not hear.
Here's the deal. If you're in the US, you go to NetZero and sign on. You get free internet access and email, saving you the $10/month that you're currently paying. Read what they have to say, and make up your own mind. It means you'll get to see more adverts, of course :-(
If you're in the UK, go to Dixons, and get their Freeserve CD Rom. You get free internet access, email and even 15 mb of web space. I signed up with Freeserve. See me at my Freeserve web site
If you have problems getting things set up with their CD Rom, I've got a ten-step explanation of what it does, so you can do it yourself by hand. Plus, if you do it this way, its installation won't change whatever defaults you have set up. It's not easy to do, but if you need to do it the hard way, it's all explained.
Here's another free internet provider for UK folk (but the adverts are more visible). And another (but they insert adverts into your email). And another. And another (with unlimited web space). And another. And another (unlimited web space which can be used for commercial purposes). And another (they support Frontpage).
I found only one free service in the US. If you find any others, let me know. There's others that claim to be free, but when you read what they really offer, there's a sign-up fee. There's nothing wrong with that, I'll be writing to the compilers of the Oxford English Dictionary, though, to tell them that the word "free" has acquired a new meaning. So with freewwweb you pay $99 one time, for the set-up.
My guess is that this is just the start of a trend. Once there's one free access company, it puts immense pressure on the others. And I think the reason for the large number of free providers in the UK, has to do with the way the telephone company charges, which is different from the US.
So what's the catch? Who's really paying who? In the UK, it works like this. Freeserve (or whoever) registers as a "Telephone company". They only offer the 0845 number (local call rate), and share the revenue from that with BT. So by using that number, you're cutting some of BT's profit, and giving that to Freeserve.
Because of the way it works, these free ISPs are likely to be as good in terms of connection, as the ones you pay for; the exception is support, where you can expect to pay separately. But the fact is, once you've got a connection working, you'll probably need no support.