Whatever Apple and Google are doing to wrest power away from the likes of AT&T and Verizon, let it be known that the carriers do not want the role of dumb pipes. Deciding what software does and does not show up on new phones when they ship out to consumers is a big deal involving plenty of politics, money, and other forms of negotiating. Apple is famous for insisting that their iPhone make it to consumers’ hands free of any third-party software. Google is treading a thin line between purveyor of open source software and bloatware’s best friend when it comes to what happens to new Android handsets before they come to market.

In between lie the carriers, who’ve long held sway not only over what devices show up in their stores and on their networks, but also what software said phones, netbooks and tablets have pre-installed when they go on sale. As consumers become more interested in what device they’re purchasing than what network it runs on, networks need to figure out how to edge themselves back into the limelight without alienating the Apples and HTCs of the world who are suddenly up to the task of marketing themselves directly to those consumers.

One way to go about the problem is to open a few “Innovation Centers” and invite a bunch of media types to the ribbon cutting ceremonies. Or at least Verizon Wireless seems to think. Big Red is opening two innovation centers this summer, and has invited us to the festivities.

First up is the LTE Innovation Center in Waltham, MA. Verizon’s new East Coast building “drives innovation through collabroation, and provides an environment for companies in the LTE ecosystem to quickly develop and bring innovative 4G LTE solutions to market.” In other words, Verizon’s LTE network kicks butt and they want to do business with hardware, software and service providers eager to take advantage of all of that fast, fast mobile bandwidth they’re spreading across our land. The LTE Center celebrates its official opening day on July 12.

Then, on an unspecified date in August, Verizon will officially open their Application Innovation Center in San Francisco, CA. The App center aims to position the carrier literally in the heart of the burgeoning mobile software ecosystem: Downtown San Francisco, just a stone’s throw away from Silicon Valley and its seemingly unending stream of venture capital.

“The goal of the AIC is to engage developers, pro-actively share Verizon Wireless’ technical and marketing experience and expertise, and ultimately bring truly innovative applications and services to all of Verizon’s customers,” said Brian Higgins, executive director of Ecosystem Development at Verizon Wireless. “As the mobile ecosystem grows, the AIC aims to play an important role in bringing in new developers and nurturing new ideas.”

To take it a step further, official Verizon PR draws the parallel between the East Coast (hardware) and West Coast (software) centers in plain terms:

The LTE Innovation Center in Massachusetts has spurred development for products, services and solutions ranging from home monitoring and control, health care, visual collaboration, gaming and more since it opened its doors in 2009. A similar collaborative model will be applied to the application space.

Verizon’s gotten to where they are for good reason, and they’re showing no signs of letting up just because the old “carrier controls the deck” model of mobile is receding like the high tide. Big Red knows they still hold plenty of sway in a market dominated by carrier subsidized handsets and tiered data plans customers seemingly can’t live without. Good on them for spending the resources to reach out to innovative hardware and software developers in a quasi-incubator style fashion. I wonder what they’ve got cooking in those labs …