FCC approves Verizon's acquisition of Alltel

WASHINGTON--After a long delayed Election Day meeting, the FCC approved Verizon Wireless's $28.1 billion acquisition of Alltel, making it the largest wireless carrier in the U.S., with a combined 83.8 million subscribers.

The U.S. Department of Justice approved  the acquisition last week on the condition that Verizon divest 100 markets in 22 states where the companies overlapped.  The FCC is requesting that Verizon also agree to divest five additional markets where it found that there would be competitive harm.

The open meeting, which was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. EST, did not start until nearly 4 p.m.  A backroom disagreement among the commissioners as to whether to allow Verizon and Alltel's current roaming agreements to extend for four years was the cause of the delay. Verizon will be honoring all of Alltel's roaming agreements for either the the term of the agreement or for four years, depending upon which expires first.

Alltel has long been a roaming partner with Verizon and operates in nearly 60 markets where Verizon does not. Both carriers use CDMA air interface technology and Qualcomm's BREW platform for content delivery. Similar to Verizon, Alltel plans to migrate to Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology for 4G.

Consumer advocates have argued that the new company would stifle competition. Commissioners Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein cited these concerns, and dissented in part on the vote. Copps called the new company "the only game in town" for rural roaming. "Reductions in competition will translate into lower quality service and higher prices for American consumers," he said. "That's not the direction we should be heading."

Commissioner Deborah Taylor Tate said that the deal is "a transaction that would result in an expanded footprint and upgraded  services, especially in rural America, and may provide real public benefits immediately."

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