For the most part, as the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch, or a free latte. This is all too true, I'm afraid: Mostly you will need to pay to surf while you sip.
With most Wi-Fi service providers, you don't need to sign up for a plan, although it will certainly be beneficial for you to do so if you plan to make much use of the service (Chapter 12 has more information on making the best of the economics of the matter). You also don't need to enroll with a Wi-Fi service provider in advance. You can do it on the spot when you connect via your laptop (provided, of course, you've brought a valid credit card).
If you're just looking to get your feet wet in the pool of connecting to the Internet through a public hotspot, it's worth noting that Starbucks provides a promotional one-day pass that gives you a free day of Wi-Fi access using a special promotional code as explained in special brochures available in each store.
With T-Mobile Hotspot, you can sign up for access by the minute, the day, or for a monthly plan.
The initial sign-up screen is shown in Figure 3.8 and gives you a good idea of the different plans and costs associated with them.