Pruning Walled Gardens with the Shears of the Free Market

In an unexpected announcement on Tuesday, Verizon Wireless announced that it will allow any device or application to access its network starting in mid-2008. This decision marks a water-shed moment in the history of wireless communications, as never before has a national network allowed such a wide range of devices to communicate on a shared medium.

Whether Verizon Wireless can live up to its bold claims remains to be seen, but at the very minimum we’ll witness a proliferation of original wireless devices ranging from cameras to appliances.

Liberal supporters of government intervention will no doubt argue we should thank the FCC for Verizon’s decision. But in truth, market pressures are to thank for giving private companies incentives to relax proprietary platforms.

CEI Tech Policy Analyst Cord Blomquist has relentlessly attacked government-mandated open standards in numerous blog posts and in an op-ed. Verizon’s decision affirms Cord’s argument that evolving consumer preferences are vastly superior to government mandates in sending signals to private businesses.

As mobile phone users grow more sophisticated and diverse, their concept of what makes the perfect cell phone will give rise to myriad developers with distinctive ideas for designing wireless devices. Verizon has finally concluded that the benefits of openness and innovation possible only through open platforms outweigh the costs of operating a network without strictly controlling every connected unit.

Google’s recent push for open standards surely contributed to Verizon’s announcements, as did the runaway success of Apple’s iPhone in capturing much of the Smartphone market. Verizon undoubtedly recognized that giving developers greater independence is a boon for ingenuity, and as consumers increasingly want devices with a plethora of capabilities designing phones in-house or striking exclusivity deals with other manufacturers is not always a viable strategy.

The CEI’s upcoming Dead Air Report will argue for free-market allocation of the electromagnetic spectrum, and Verizon’s announcement bolsters the case for competition as a panacea to public safety communications woes. If an individual can build a device on a “breadboard” and connect to a high-speed nationwide wireless network, why can’t the market furnish a robust, reliable, resilient network tailored to meet public safety needs?

Consumer choice requires genuine alternatives, and soon anybody seeking to purchase a mobile phone will be able to select an open or a closed network. The beauty of market economies is that both open and closed services can co-exist free from the heavy hands of bureaucrats.