Today’s Wall Street Journal suggests the LR-based communications company might be:

Private-equity firms are beginning to circle Alltel Corp., making the nation’s fifth-largest wireless operator another potential target amid a string of huge leveraged buyouts this year.

Wall Street is buzzing about a possible deal and private-equity shops are already exploring the idea, people familiar with the matter say.

Any Alltel deal would be large. The company has a market value of $21.7 billion and a debt load of just under $3 billion. Its stock is trading at a slight discount to similar carriers, based on projected earnings for next year before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization.

Two factors are driving the deal chatter: Alltel is a pure cellphone operator, having recently spun off its slow-growing landline division, and it has low debt relative to other telecom carriers. Such balance-sheet strength would give a potential buyer plenty of room to pile debt on the company as part of its purchase plan, especially considering Alltel’s Ebitda of roughly $4 billion annually.