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AT&T completes purchase of local Alltel wireless assets

No changes in effect yet

Local Alltel cell phone users are one step closer to becoming AT&T customers.

Last month, AT&T finalized its purchase of Alltel's assets throughout the Big Horn Basin and several dozen market areas across the United States.

The deal, initally announced more than a year ago, closed June 22 after receiving the blessing of the Federal Communications Commission.

In the Big Horn Basin — a market area that includes Park, Big Horn, Washakie and Hot Springs counties — AT&T purchased Alltel's contracts, cell towers and other infrastructure from Verizon Wireless, which had acquired Alltel for $28.1 billion in early 2009.

Local Alltel customers will be transitioned to AT&T service sometime over the next year, AT&T said. Local Verizon customers should not be affected by the deal.

In order to secure aquistition approval from the federal Department of Justice, Verizon was barred from merging with Alltel in the Big Horn Basin and more than 100 other markets where the department believed it would promote a monopoly.

A Verizon-Alltel merger in the Big Horn Basin would have left only one cellular service provider; no other cell phone provider currently has an agent in the Basin.

In the markets where the companies were barred from merging, Verizon was required to sell off either its or Alltel's licenses to another provider. In Wyoming and most of the market areas, Verizon chose to sell Alltel's assets.

AT&T purchased the assets in 79 of those markets across 18 states. The $2.35 billion deal includes roughly 1.6 million Alltel subscribers in mostly rural areas.

AT&T says it will transition Alltel customers to its services — and brand name — on a market-by-market basis over the next 12 months or so.

“At this time, you do not need to do anything,” says an AT&T webpage set up for Alltel customers acquired in the purchase. “Your current wireless service will continue to work as it does today. For now, there are no changes to your phone number, rate plan, network coverage, customer service, or how you make monthly bill payments.”

Because AT&T's cellular network infrastructure differs from that of Alltel's, current Alltel customers will ultimately need a different phone/device, but not until the transition to AT&T service is complete. AT&T says it will provide new, comparable phones to customers at no additional charge when the transition begins, while also offering the opportunity to upgrade.

AT&T's best known device is Apple's iPhone, as the telecommunications company is currently the device's exclusive provider.

AT&T says its coverage area will be similar to Alltel's when the network upgrades are completed, but says its 3G network will offer faster data speeds for talking, e-mail and web-surfing when launched. Additionally, Alltel customers will join a much larger calling network, with AT&T having more than 81.5 million wireless subscribers.

Verizon Wireless is currently the United States' largest wireless service provider, with 91.2 million customers at the end of 2009.

In approving the sale of Alltel's assets to AT&T, the Federal Communications Commission found that the deal would promote competition and provide customers in the affected markets with new wireless services.

The commission's review of the deal took longer than expected; AT&T had hoped to complete it last year.

AT&T said it will let Alltel subscribers know of changes in advance.

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