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Verizon's purchase of Alltel will mean some changes for existing Verizon customers in the local, surrounding areas

WILLMAR -- Southern Minnesota cell phone users including those in the west central area who have Verizon Wireless and Unicel contracts will eventually become customers of other companies under Verizon's recently completed purchase of Alltel.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Regulatory Commission are requiring Verizon to divest overlapping Verizon and Unicel properties in 105 markets across 24 states including parts of southern Minnesota as a condition of the Jan. 9, 2009, purchase.

Verizon properties to be sold in southern Minnesota are those in Chippewa, Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Nicollet, Renville and Sibley counties. Properties in 10 northern Minnesota counties will also be sold.

Verizon will also sell Unicel properties in 28 Minnesota counties including Chippewa, Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker, Nicollet, Renville, Sibley, Lac qui Parle, Redwood and Yellow Medicine.

Verizon acquired Unicel in August 2008.

Verizon said it agreed to sell properties in markets where Alltel and Verizon overlap to preserve competition. Verizon has placed licenses and assets for those properties in a trust management company. The trust will continue to operate those properties under those brands until the trust sells them to one or more buyers.

As a result, those markets will not be integrated into Verizon Wireless operations, according to the company's Web site.

The divestiture was required by the federal agencies to preserve competition in those markets, explains Karen Smith, a Verizon spokeswoman in Plymouth.

For now, said Smith, it's business-as-usual.

"They are still running competitive companies and it's still a competitive market where customers have a choice of three different options,'' said Smith

"They're all still operating and serving customers ... There's always direct mail that goes out to customers when there's going to be any change coming for them. I know that's what we'll do and I anticipate that that's how customers would get informed of an upcoming change,'' said Smith.

According to Verizon, the company will take several months to upgrade and integrate the Alltel network into the Verizon network.

"In terms of the Alltel customers, there's no changes until down the road when we rebrand. But I don't have a timeline on that for your market. And there's no changes for the trust-managed brands -- Verizon Wireless and Unicel -- until those markets are sold by the trust,'' said Smith.

She said employees at the Willmar Alltel store are now Verizon Wireless employees, but are operating under the Alltel brand.

Smith said the billing records of Verizon customers have been given to the trust management company. She said customers can still call Verizon Wireless for service or visit Willmar's Wireless World store, a Verizon Wireless premium retailer.

Smith said Wireless World is operating as a store for the trust and will help customers with their billing records.

Jessica Hammer, Wireless World manager, said she will be available to help current customers during the change-over.

"We've been able to help customers through some of those changes,'' she said. "I was always the one to help them with that and I don't want them to feel like they're alone with the new changes.''