On Call: How the Alltel/Verizon merger affects you

On Call gives you the facts on the Verizon Wireless/Alltel merger.

Nothing is constant in the cell phone world and carriers are no exception. In the past five years, we've seen Sprint scoop up Nextel, AT&T Wireless merge into Cingular, and Cingular become the new AT&T. And I won't even mention the small regional operators that disappeared into the folds of a national carrier.

The latest carrier casualty is Alltel, which , as of last Friday, merged with Verizon Wireless. Like any corporate marriage, there are plenty of details to sort out so this one won't be completed for some time. But if you're a customer of either carrier, I'm sure you have questions on how the merger will affect you. So, to help you understand how the merger will proceed, I've created this handy FAQ that expands on Verizon's own FAQ on its Web site. If you have any additional queries, please send them on and I'll do my best to answer them.

Q: When will the merger be completed?

A: It will be a few months until Verizon and Alltel are one company. For now, Verizon is the legal owner of Alltel. Once the deal is done, Verizon will outpace AT&T as the largest U.S. wireless carrier with an expected 78 million customers.

Q: What will the company be called?

A: Verizon is the buyer here so the Alltel name and branding will disappear starting in the second quarter of this year. Most current Alltel customers will become customers of Verizon automatically.

Q: How much is the deal worth?

A: Verizon is paying $5.9 billion for Alltel and assuming $22.2 billion in Alltel debt for a total acquisition worth $28.1 billion.

Q: Where will the company locate its headquarters?

A: Verizon will retain its headquarters in Basking Ridge, N.J. Alltel's offices in Little Rock, Ark., will close but Verizon has promised it will open a call center there. Unfortunately, that will mean more than a few Alltel employees in Arkansas will lose their job.

Q: Will the companies have a difficult time combining their networks?

A: For the most part, they will not have much trouble. Both carriers use CDMA and operate EV-DO 3G networks. As such, their technologies are compatible and each carrier's phones can operate on the other carrier's network.

On a more specific level, however, there will be hiccups with the combination. To gain federal approval for the merger, Verizon agreed to sell assets in 105 markets in 24 states where it overlapped with Alltel. The feds ordered this to preserve competition in those markets. While that may sound great on the surface, it will have a profound impact on customers in those areas.

Q: What kind of impact?

Alltel customers in an overlapping market will not be part of the merger and will not migrate to Verizon. The assets will be placed in a trust until they are sold to a buyer. If that applies to you, your cell service won't stop working, but you will get a new service provider at some point. Verizon has listed the assets that it will sell on its Web site.

Q: How will I know if I'll migrate to Verizon?

A: If your service will be integrated you'll receiver a letter in the coming weeks. If you have questions about your status, contact Verizon customer service.

Q: What will happen during migration process?

A: The two carriers will have to integrate networks and billing services. Until that happens, you'll continue to use Alltel's network. When it is completed, the actual switchover process should be pretty seamless (at least we hope). You won't notice a service interruption on your end.

Q: I'm an Alltel customer. Will my reception and customer service level change due to the merger?

A: As with any merger you will see a change. It could be for the better, or it could be the worse, but it's difficult to say right now. Hopefully, it will be the former.

Q: Will I have to give up my Alltel phone?

No, you should be able to continue to use it with Verizon without any issues.

Q: Will Verizon discontinue any Alltel-specific services like My Circle?

As of now, Alltel customers can continue to use My Circle as long as they are on an Alltel plan. Verizon customers may get to use My Circle when the merger is complete, but that's still under evaluation. On the other hand, Alltel customers will be able to use free mobile-to-mobile minutes when calling Verizon customers in the near future.

Q: What will I happen to my Alltel calling plan? Will I be forced to sign a new Verizon contract?

We don't know specifics on this just yet, and we won't know them until the integration is close to being over. Yet, it's my guess that you'll be able to keep your Alltel plan, at least in the short term. When Cingular bought the old AT&T Wireless, AT&T customers were able to keep their plans for the first couple of years. Eventually, most of them moved over, but only after their original AT&T plan expired and they agreed to sign a new Cingular plan to get a new phone with a rebate.

Q: What will happen to the Alltel stores? Will they close?

A: According to Verizon, Alltel stores will remain open during the integration process. After it's completed, though, it's likely that some Alltel stores will close. Also, until the merger is over, Alltel customers can't get service at Verizon stores and vice versa.

Q: Will I no longer have to suffer through those irritating "Chad" Alltel commercials?

A: I certainly hope so. If anything good comes out of this merger, I'd say that would be it.

 

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