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The iPhone Cometh


Published November 19, 2008 at 6:12 a.m.

When Apple introduced the iPhone 3G, it was available in 22 countries (but not Vermont). Soon, the iPhone will be available in 77 different countries.

The background chatter has been intensifying in recent days about whether Vermonters will join the rest of the developing world and be able to buy (and use) the iPhone. Legally.

Seven Days even received several tips that folks visiting local Unicel stores (the carrier that AT&T is buying, the exclusive service carrier for the iPhone) were told that within weeks Unicel will be transformed into AT&T Wireless outlets.

A quick check uncovered that AT&T is hiring in Vermont. There was even some great discussions at iBrattleboro about jobs coming to the area.

The Burlington Free Press has had a couple of interesting blog posts about the coming of the iPhone, including this fun series of posts by Jackie Kazil. But business reporter Dan Mclean dashed all hopes in his most recent post. He's certainly repeating the conventional wisdom I've heard from certain powers-that-be in Vermont (see below).

That said, my local Unicel rep said it's likely an announcement about AT&T Wireless (and therefore the iPhone) coming to Vermont will happen within a week. But, it's not likely Unicel stores will be closed and remade into AT&T outlets until after the holiday season. I mean, really, why close down for a week to renovate when you could be selling phones, right?

Other iPhone watchers, including Don Mayer at Small Dog Electronics, and Stephen Wark, a spokesman for the Department of Public Service, aren't convinced that the deal will close that quickly. Both it could well into next year before iPhones become ubiquitous in the Green Mountains.

"AT&T has a contract to acquire the Unicel system and customers in Vermont, which is awaiting the approval of the FCC.  The particulars are still in flux, but there were some underlying concerns about an acquisition creating a monopoly," said Wark, whose department regulates phone carriers.  "We do not know when it will be approved or what the final result will look like.  It could be by the end of the year, or it could be sometime next year."

That was a similar take to the one I received from Big Dog Mayer at Small Dog.

"I do not think that the iPhone will be here in time for the holidays. I believe that the deal between AT&T and Verizon regarding the transfer of Unicel is pretty much done but now needs approval of the FCC," said Mayer. "I have spoken to the lawyer representing AT&T and with the Communications Workers Union and my best guess is that it will be sometime in the spring before the IPhone officially makes it to Vermont."

When the iPhone arrives, it's not likely that Small Dog will sell the devices. But, for anyone hoping to trick it out and find just the right accessories for the iPhone, they're the spot.

Until then, i'll have plenty of fun with my iPod Touch — which is the Vermont version of the iPhone. It's everything but the phone part.