updated 7/11/2005 6:26:45 PM ET 2005-07-11T22:26:45

Federal regulators signed off Monday on Alltel Corp.'s $4.4 billion acquisition of Western Wireless Corp. — a union that would make Alltel the nation's fifth-largest cellular telephone service provider.

The Federal Communications Commission said the proposed merger "will serve the public interest, convenience and necessity." The commission concluded that the likely public-interest benefits of the merger outweigh the potential public-interest harms.

"This action will ensure that consumers continue to receive the benefits of competition, such as lower prices and higher quality service," said FCC chairman Kevin Martin.

The approval, a unanimous decision, did come with some conditions. Little Rock, Ark.-based Alltel would have to sell assets in 16 markets in Arkansas, Kansas and Nebraska.

Martin said the required divestitures will help "preserve competition where consumers have fewer choices for wireless services."

With the acquisition of Bellevue, Wash.-based Western Wireless, Alltel would have $10 billion in overall revenue and 10 million wireless customers, including those in much of the rural United States. Alltel would have coverage in 33 states, including nine new ones: California, Idaho, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.

The move would expand Alltel's reach by about 1.4 million U.S. wireless customers in 19 Western and Midwestern states. The Western Wireless purchase also would give Alltel 1.6 million customers in six foreign countries, most of them in Austria and Ireland.

The Justice Department tentatively approved the merger last week.

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