updated 10/30/2008 6:05:43 PM ET 2008-10-30T22:05:43

The Justice Department wants Verizon Wireless to sell assets in 22 states before merging with Alltel Corp. in a $28 billion deal to create the largest wireless carrier in the United States.

Government lawyers joined seven states in a lawsuit filed Thursday to block the merger if Verizon fails to do so.

Otherwise, the Justice Department said, the deal would hurt competition, drive up consumer prices and likely produce a lower-quality network.

“The divestitures required are necessary to protect wireless customers and are among the most extensive required by the department in a wireless case,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas O. Barnett said in a statement.

To win regulators’ approval, Verizon must sell assets in 100 areas, including the states of North Dakota and South Dakota and large portions of Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Montana, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming.

Verizon also must sell assets in Alabama, Arizona, California, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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