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Verizon Wireless to Open Network, Mostly

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Verizon Wireless to Open Network, Mostly

Technology

Verizon Wireless to Open Network, Mostly

Verizon Wireless to Open Network, Mostly

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The cell-phone provider says it will allow access to any kind of phone or software. Ryan Block, editor of Engadget.com, explores the limits of that offer.

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This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News.

We bring you a little news, a little information, and today, a little Muslim humor. I will do my very best not to offend anyone. Our guest - I can't promise anything.

It's a Wednesday, November 28th. I'm Alison Stewart. Luke Burbank out today, so I'm holding down the fort, getting some help from Rachel Martin, who may be my hero because you're managing to have a social life with our schedule.

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RACHEL MARTIN, host:

Not really. We went to dinner at 5 o'clock.

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MARTIN: Five o'clock, you would think no one would be in a restaurant. I was totally surprised. There were actually a lot of people out. We went to this steak house. My brother, his wife and their five-month-old baby are in town from Colorado. We went out to dinner, and I thought this is going to be a true nightmare. I mean, a five-month-old baby. Who does that?

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MARTIN: Well, we walked in, and people looked at us like we were either really rich and famous and more accustomed to getting anything we want and doing anything we want.

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MARTIN: Yeah.

STEWART: Okay.

MARTIN: Yeah. That wasn't the case. Or we were totally delusional, and - which is probably more the latter. But actually, it went really well. I was totally impressed with my brother and sister-in-law. They're like a well-oiled machine. Baby cries, take baby out. Baby needs to, you know, do a little business, take baby out and change. I mean, they were just like, we're over it. We are going out to dinner, come heck or high water. And…

STEWART: Well, there you go.

MARTIN: …nothing will stop us. So I was inspired.

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MARTIN: The baby has a name. Baby's name is Charlie.

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STEWART: A future BPP listener. Okay, Rachel. I'm going to leave you alone. I'll let you go the news bunker and get your…

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On today's show, we are going to find out the best place in the world to live. That's according to the U.N., you might be surprised. A new number one - stick around for that.

We'll also talk about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's role in the Mideast peace process with her biographer, Marcus Mabry.

And we'll hear some music from Sondre Lerche. Yeah, that's how you pronounce it - I think. He wrote and performed the score of Steve Carrell's new movie, "Dan in Real Life." Here's a little taste to tide you over until we hear him for real.

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Mr. SONDRE LERCHE (Singer): (Singing) But you better be prepared to be surprised. And honey be prepared to be surprised. It's all I know. I'm not…

STEWART: Yes, he can sing, and he is a charmer, too. Stick around for that.

But first, here is THE BPP's Big Story.

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STEWART: It could be a wide open wireless West. At least that's the initial indication from the nation's second largest mobile carrier, Verizon Wireless. The company announced yesterday it will open its network to other company's phones, becoming the first major carrier in the U.S. to allow outside devices in. Of course, those devices need to meet Verizon's technical standards.

Verizon is calling the program Any App, Any Device. And it's supposed to go into effect next year. Now the move comes just, oh, weeks after a little company named Google announced it's backing a new open-source software that'll let you pimp your cell phone any way you want.

Ryan Block is the editor of the tech Web site, Engadget. So Ryan, what is the good news for Verizon's 64 million subscribers?

Mr. RYAN BLOCK (Editor, Engadget.com): Well, the good news is supposedly there is going to be a lot more choice and freedom with the devices and applications that they'll be able to use with their wireless service.

But I think that there might be a lot of bad news kind of lurking right under the surface that we're just not really aware of yet.

STEWART: So what does that mean? When we talk about Verizon's people, what does it mean for the rest of the wireless world?

Mr. BLOCK: Well, honestly, it doesn't mean a whole lot. It's unprecedented for Verizon, because Verizon uses a kind of network called CDMA that makes it really difficult to take other carrier's phones and put them on. But AT&T and T-Mobile both use a standard called GSM. And those kinds of devices are able to - I'm getting some interference on the line. Those kinds of devices are able to take pretty much any device from - that uses that standard anywhere in the world, as long as it's unlocked.

STEWART: It was Verizon breaking into your phone, because they heard you say there might be something lurking under the surface. Hey, what ways could it not be so great? What could be lurking?

Mr. BLOCK: Well, unfortunately, because of the way that Verizon's setting this whole thing up, they are saying it's open and it's free access, but we still have to certify it, and you're going to have to go through our standards. So in doing so, they could be, you know, letting people get the impression that they can run any device on their network. But if they don't give it a path, it's still not going to go on.

STEWART: It's interesting. I was reading the New York Times this morning. I think you've heard of it. You know, you were right in the thick of the tech world. The New York Times wrote about this with sort of a sense of surprise about the whole thing happening - Verizon's choice.

What do you folks at Engadget think? Was this a surprise to you, that Verizon made this choice?

Mr. BLOCK: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. I mean, if you think about where America stands in terms of the whole cell phone wireless world - I mean, we have the most controlling cell phone carriers in the world. I mean, this is pretty common knowledge. We're just kind of, you know, under lock and key with our wireless carriers. And Verizon is the most controlling carrier in America. So it stands the reason they could be considered the most controlling carrier in the world.

And so, for them to kind of turn around and say, we're going to completely open this thing up, you can run any device and any application on it, seems shocking to the point where you kind of have to question their motives.

Now if you look back in what Verizon has been doing in the last six months, they actually haved filed suit against the FCC over the 700 megahertz wireless spectrum auction that's going to happen next January. I don't expect people to know what that really means. But basically, they filed suit against the FCC for the expressed purpose of trying to prevent open access to a lot of new radio waves that would basically present a lot of competition to them.

STEWART: So, in a way, though, this was coming down the pike anyway because of this FCC ruling.

Mr. BLOCK: Right, exactly. So the FCC - they had to drop the case, because they knew that they were going to win it. And Google kind of stepped in and got some of these open access rules put into the wireless auction that's going to happen.

So Verizon is a little bit down and out on that on that end. And I think they had to realize, that if they were going to come back on this - at least from a PR standpoint - they had to make a pretty bold announcement. And I think in doing so, and in still managing to try to keep control of the openness - which is a very Verizon thing to do, say they're going to be open, but really kind of, you know, clamp down some control on that openness, anyway. It's really hard to say exactly what consumers are going to really get out of this.

STEWART: Last question for you, Ryan. The blogs, very skeptical, as you can imagine. Someone wrote:

(Reading) "Do you really believe that Verizon is going to be happy being Pipes-R-Us?"

Is it a valid skepticism?

Mr. BLOCK: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you kind of have to look at the way the telecom industry has progressed over the last 20 and 30 years. I mean, you know, back in the day, the telecom companies with the wire lines pretty much owned the whole banana, right? I mean, you didn't have your own phone line. You leased the phone line. You leased the actual telephone that sat in your house and everything about the service.

And eventually, that system went away, and you just kind of bought the dial line and you can use your own phone. And it really opened up the whole ecosystem and made it really better for consumers and for the telecom companies. So that's pretty much the eventual direction that all the wireless companies are going to have to take, I mean, maybe in the next 10 years. I personally never really thought Verizon would be the first to take that step, and I'm still very skeptical that they're really going to be doing it.

STEWART: Ryan Block is the editor of the tech Web site, Engadget. Thanks for the explainer, Ryan.

Mr. BLOCK: Thank you very much.

STEWART: And that's the BPP' Big Story.

Now, here's Rachel Martin with even more news.

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