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iPhone market coming to western Minnesota

FARGO, N.D. - North Dakotans and rural Minnesotans will finally be able to purchase and use the iPhone sometime during the next year.

On Tuesday, communications giant AT&T acquired the wireless assets of Verizon Wireless that formerly belonged to Alltel.

The transaction expands AT&T's wireless network coverage to primarily rural areas in 18 states, including North Dakota and 40 Minnesota counties. Clay, Norman and Mahnomen are among the western Minnesota counties.

AT&T is the only wireless service that offers Apple's iPhone, which just came out with its newest version Thursday.

"A lot of people have been talking to me, saying they are interested in the iPhone, which we haven't been able to purchase here in North Dakota," said Tony Clark, a member of the North Dakota Public Service Commission. "This brings us into that marketplace, so that's exciting."

The new service will be launched on a market-by-market basis, said Tom Hopkins, AT&T spokes-man.

"Customers don't have to do anything at the moment," he said. "Their phone numbers will remain the same, their rate plans will remain the same, their contracts and all of that will remain the same during this transition."

Before launching in a specific community or market, AT&T will inform customers that it is changing over to the new network, Hopkins said.

Customers will be able to select, at no additional cost, a device that is compatible to the new technology or pay to upgrade to an expanded menu of new devices, he said.

To secure regulatory approval to purchase Alltel in 2009, Verizon Wireless agreed to divest Alltel properties in 105 markets, some of which were sold to AT&T, said Robin Nicol, Verizon Wireless spokeswoman.

Affected Alltel customers will become part of the AT&T network over the next 12 months, Hopkins said.

"Verizon Wireless customers are not affected at all by this," Nicol said.