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AT&T to replace Alltel in Montana within a year

Here is the full-text of my story, published in today’s Chronicle. It’s more or less an update of the post I published here earlier this week.

A recently approved deal between AT&T and Verizon will make AT&T’s mobile broadband services and cell phones — including the iPhone — available in Montana.

AT&T announced Tuesday that the FCC had approved the company’s $2.35 billion deal to buy wireless licenses from rival Verizon.

Verizon had to sell the licenses to comply with federal antitrust laws when it purchased wireless company Alltel in 2009.

The new licenses will allow AT&T to offer 3G network coverage in 79 mostly rural service areas spread across 18 states, including Montana and Wyoming.

3G is a wireless communications standard that allows users to talk on the phone and use data services at the same time. Most 3G systems offer download speeds between 1 megabit per second and 2 megabits per second. By comparison, cable Internet access clocks in around 8 megabits per second. 3G is about 35 to 50 times as fast as a 56K modem.

AT&T’s new licenses mean that, within 12 months, Alltel retail outlets in Montana will change into AT&T stores and will be carrying phones such as the immensely popular Apple iPhone, whose newest incarnation was released Thursday.

Right now, iPhones work in Montana, though without AT&T coverage in the state, the phones operate on a roaming signal. Getting a non-roaming iPhone currently involves a process called “jailbreaking” or “unlocking,” which allows the phone to connect to networks other than AT&T’s.

An employee reached by phone at the Bozeman Alltel store referred all questions to AT&T’s regional spokeswoman, Brooke Burgess.

Burgess wrote in an e-mail Wednesday that local Alltel customers won’t see any changes to their phone numbers, rates, network coverage, customer-service contacts or bill paying.

After the transition to AT&T, most Alltel customers will be able to continue with their existing service plans, Burgess said.

However, those former Alltel customers will eventually need to get new AT&T phones. Customers will be able to replace their phones with comparable AT&T phones at no cost. Upgrades, though, will not be free, Burgess said.

Existing AT&T customers should see improved cellular service in the affected coverage areas, mostly because those phones will no longer be roaming, AT&T said in a written statement.

Michael Becker can be reached at or 582-2657.