In the UK we have 'SIM only' deals where you can pay either monthly or yearly for a contract that provides a SIM but no phone. Do you have anything similar in the US?
Yeah, we have that (on AT&T and T-Mobile, but not yet Verizon or Sprint because they still use CDMA for voice). However, folks in the States are used to paying between $0-200 for phones because the mobile operators "hide" the cost of the device in a multi-year contract.
This is starting to change. T-Mobile started it, but the big guys (AT&T and Verizon) and Sprint followed suit. If you buy your own phone, the monthly service fee on AT&T is dropped by $15. On the other hand, if you buy a phone under a two-year contract, not only do you pay $15 more per month, but the monthly price remains $15/month higher even after the 24-month contract term ends. On T-Mo, the monthly bill includes a base price (unlimited voice and text plus 1 GB of high-speed data), a charge for extra high-speed data ($10 per 2 GB/mo), and, optionally, a charge for 1/24th of the cost of whichever phone you selected.