Verizon Year-End Report Card: B-S

Verizon has to be the most bipolar telecom in the US. It's got a great network but won't let anything on it. Its got decent phones, but a lot of 'em are disfigured with that red-stained standardized interface. It was against open networks but now it is all about them. Grading Verizon for the year is hard, like a student who slacks all year then aces the finals on the last day of class.

Verizon's smoking final exam score is its sudden, totally stunning turn to the Light Side of the Force, publicly embracing an "any app, any device" open network as the One True Path. It's like Vader turning at the end of Jedi. Or the Emperor, even. To continuing abusing the SW metaphors, Palpatine only wishes he could've gripped the galaxy as tightly as Verizon gripped its network. The only catch we know of so far is that its own handsets may well continue to be locked tight, but overall it was a huge—possibly the best—twist ending of the year.

We've still gotta dock them for bitterly and persistently trying to mow down the open access provisions Google got the FCC to put in place for the 700MHz auction. It sorta makes us wonder if we're seeing Verizon's Senator Palpatine act. Then again, it did kiss and make up with the Goog, and is going with a more open standard for its 4G network, one that will be shared with (get this!) GSM carriers in the US and abroad.

Speaking of "the network" (sorry), it's been a pretty good one for users. On the mobile front, Verizon upgraded every city to EV-DO Rev. A,which in English means can download stuff over the air fast if you've got the coverage (1.4Mbps, or 8 secs for a 1MB file). We're not down with the flippy-floppiness about data caps though. V CAST Mobile TV also debuted, though the Giz jury is still out on the whole mobile TV concept.

It's easy to forget Verizon is also the provider of landline and broadband services, but on that front, it's done well too. Its FiOS network kept getting more awesome (read: faster) and we got assurances it would just keep making us cable users more and more murderously jealous. Not only did the carrier roll out a torrent-tastic 20Mbps down/20Mbps up symmetrical plan, they brought it to the whole network and offered their speediest service yet, 50Mbps downstream, creeping us ever closer to true Godzilla bandwidth. Negative points: It's probably still not coming to your house.

AT&T may have the iPhone, and there might not be an iPhone killer in sight, but Verizon still has a (usually)solid lineup of gear. More importantly, the phones work well all over the place, so the carrier continues to win JD Power & Associate customer satisfaction awards, soundly beating other networks (*cough*AT&T*cough*Sprint*cough*). We still grimace at the unsightly Verizon standard interface appearing on all too many phones, though openness is the answer. Even now, the Verizon phones we most love don't have a Verizon interface.

The carrier's formerly deathlock contracts are now less constricting, a big win for customer satisfaction, but there's still plenty of reasons to piss and moan about the some aspects of customer service.

Verizon was also a willing hand in the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program, turning over untold amounts of data to help the government spy on Americans. Big thumbs down, even if they probably aren't going to get spanked for it.

Final grade: B- Overall, Verizon can be a mixed bag, but (and it's a pretty big "but") if its moves to be more open are truly in earnest, the carrier might lead the mobile industry down a much more interesting path than it looked to be on even just a few months ago.