AT&T To Buy Alltel — Wait, Didn’t Verizon Already Buy Alltel?

Earlier today, it was announced that AT&T would buy up Alltel’s U.S. wireless service for $780 million, leading many to wonder how AT&T is buying a company that was already purchased by Verizon a few years back.

But, like a shell game, this is the fun part where you try to track the comings and goings of companies and their names amid all the wireless market consolidation.

Yes, Verizon did in fact purchase Alltel back in 2008 (the deal closed in early 2009), but as part of that deal, Verizon had to divest itself of various holdings in certain parts of the country.

The lion’s share of those divestitures ended up in the hands of AT&T, but 26 markets were acquired by Atlantic Tele-Network, which continued to use the name of Alltel for those 585,000 subscribers in six states — Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina.

According to the AP, that Alltel network actually covers around 4.6 million people, which is apparently why AT&T wants to purchase it and boost its spectrum footprint in the rural areas of these states.

Of course, this deal is still subject to regulatory approval from the FCC and the Justice Dept.