If there is a catch or some kind of hidden exception to Verizon's announcement today, it's hard to find it. The huge mobile company says that it will allow its customers to use all sorts of devices on its network, and to run any applications they choose on those devices.
The company says that early next year, it will publish technical standards for devices aiming to work on the Verizon network. Any device that meets those standards -- as Verizon determines it in its own testing lab -- will be given the green light for Verizon customers.
For a long while, now, activists and Internet companies have chafed at mobile carrier restrictions. The mobile Web could be as amazing as the real Web if only carriers didn't mandate what kinds of phones we can and can't run, and what kinds of programs are legal on those phones.
Want to run Skype on your phone? Want to get Firefox on there? If the carrier sees its revenues on the line -- if you use Skype to call long distance cheaply, or if the carrier is getting a cut from the developer of a competing browser -- it locks down your phone.
Verizon is the first major carrier to change its tune. Google deserves much credit for this -- by pushing the FCC to open up the next-gen airwaves and by unveiling a new initiative, Android, that aims for open cellphone standards, the search company planted the seed of openness into the carrier business. Now, at Verizon, the seeds are blossoming.
How will this change your life? If you're a Verizon customer, it'll only matter in small ways, if at all, for now. You won't be able to run the iPhone on Verizon. That's because the iPhone works on a technical standard known as GSM, while Verizon's network uses a competing protocol called CDMA.
But this move makes Verizon a platform for development. Electronics companies and software developers can now be assured that when they build something to the carrier's spec, their wares will work for all of Verizon's customer base. Innovation will thrive on the network, while other carriers will remain closed to the new.
Obviously then, Verizon's move is not altruistic; an open platform could be very good for its bottom line. Customers who like choice will flock to it. And who doesn't like choice?