AT&T scoops up the remnants of Alltel to harvest its spectrum

Though regional mobile carrier Alltel was swallowed up by Verizon (s vz)(s vod) in 2009, the company – or at least its name – didn’t disappear entirely. Atlantic Tele-Network bought up networks in rural Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Illinois, Ohio, and Idaho that Verizon was forced to divest. Now Alltel is changing hands one last time.
AT&T(s t) has agreed to buy Alltel from Atlantic for $780 million in cash, a price nearly four times higher than what Atlantic originally paid even though Atlantic has lost 215,000 of the original 800,000 customers that came with the network. AT&T isn’t buying Alltel for the brand or its networks – Alltel’s CDMA systems are incompatible with AT&T’s GSM and HSPA technologies – rather, it wants to use its cellular, PCS and 700 MHz licenses to expand its 2G, 3G and 4G coverage into rural areas.
AT&T said it would gradually transition Alltel’s 585,000 customers over to the new systems, and once the overhaul is complete, those subscribers should see faster data speeds than they currently get with CDMA’s 3G EV-DO technology. AT&T expects the deal to pass regulatory muster in the second half of the year.
Though AT&T and the government had their disagreements over AT&T-Mo, the DOJ and FCC have not stood in the way of any of AT&T’s smaller carrier acquisitions. In fact, AT&T already owns a good chunk of the former Alltel, having bought 79 of the 105 markets Verizon was forced to sell when the acquisition closed.