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January 20, 2009 4:18 am

No cellular merger here

Written by Tribune Staff

Alltel's assets to be sold off at later date

Alltel users in Powell will not become Verizon Wireless customers. Ultimately, they will not remain Alltel customers, either.
On Jan. 9, Verizon completed its acquisition of Alltel for roughly $5.9 billion. It also agreed to take over $22.2 billion of Alltel debt.

However, the two operations will not combine in Powell — or anywhere else in the Big Horn Basin.

The U.S. Department of Justice objected to the companies merging in the Basin or in 104 other market areas across the country because of anti-trust concerns.

In a complaint, the justice department wrote that residents in the 105 areas would likely see higher-priced and lower quality wireless service.

Verizon and Alltel are the only cellular providers with agents in Park, Big Horn, Washakie, or Hot Springs counties.

Instead of merging here, Alltel's towers, licenses, and contracts will be sold off to another buyer, or buyers.

Until a sale is made, Alltel will continue to operate as it did before its acquisition.

“We're still operating as normal. Business as usual,” said Ashlee Myrick, sales manager with Alltel agent All Access Cellular in downtown Powell.

For Big Horn Basin subscribers, Alltel features, plans, and prices will remain the same as they were before the merger.

New customers can sign up for Alltel service, too, Myrick said.

Existing customers should expect a letter in the mail soon explaining what's going on, she said.

Verizon Wireless subscribers in the Big Horn Basin will see zero changes as a result of the merger, said Bob Kelley, a Verizon spokesman.

The management of Alltel's operations here is now in the hands of an independent trustee.

Verizon has six months to look for a purchaser(s), said management trustee Steve Cannon. If things have not progressed toward a sale by that point, the management trust would become a divestiture trust, and take over the search for a buyer(s), Cannon said. The department of justice must approve the new owners.

He added that in the two cellular divestitures he has overseen, buyers were found quickly.

Overall, the Alltel acquisition added more than 10 million customers to Verizon Wireless' ranks.

Now with some 81.6 million users, Verizon is the largest wireless carrier in the country, according to third quarter 2008 figures.

The Verizon network now covers 290 million people in the U.S., said a company press release.

By combining its resources and operations with Alltel, Verizon expects to save some $9 billion.

Verizon Wireless announced its intent to buy Alltel in June 2008.

The Department of Justice approved the deal in October, and the Federal Communications Commission gave its OK in early November.