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This morning USA Today’s story, “AT&T flings cellphone network wide open,” made it seem that AT&T was doing something new, says Om Malik. He’s skeptical.

According to the USA Today story, AT&T customers can now ditch their AT&T phones and use any wireless phone, device and software application from any maker — think smartphones, e-mail and music downloading. And they don’t have to sign a contract.

“You can use any handset on our network you want,” says Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T’s wireless business. “We don’t prohibit it, or even police it.”

Everything that Google has promised to bring to the wireless market a year from now AT&T is doing today, de la Vega says. “We are the most open wireless company in the industry.”

But Malik spoke with CEO de la Vega following the Google Android announcement, and he made precisely the same statements and said that AT&T was already doing what Verizon was announcing.

Engadget concurs:


Yes, you can take your AT&T SIM, put it in an unlocked device, and run it on their network without much hassle — but that doesn’t make AT&T any more “open” than the final-say testing facility Verizon intends to use in “openly” making approvals (and disapprovals) of devices and software.

AT&T has historically made rates and devices more attractive for approved AT&T products, much like other carriers. With a lower rate, customers sign a 1 or 2 year service contract and accept a device locked to AT&T’s network (like the Apple iPhone). It is easier for AT&T and T-Mobile to provide a more open network. They have SIM cards that consumers can pop into competing GSM phones.

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