AT&T, the No. 2 U.S. wireless provider, has won U.S. antitrust approval to buy Centennial Communications Corp on the condition that it sell assets in parts of Louisiana and Mississippi, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.
The Justice Department said that it required divestitures because the $944 million deal had the potential to hurt consumers in portions of southwestern and central Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi.
This loss of competition likely would result in higher prices, lower quality service and fewer choices of mobile wireless telecommunications services providers for consumers residing in these areas, the Justice Department said in a competitive impact statement.
AT&T, which the Justice Department had said must sell eight service areas, has reached agreement to sell five of them to Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone Group Plc. That deal -- which was valued at $240 million when it was announced in May -- must also win regulatory approval.
In a kind of swap, AT&T also agreed in May to buy Alltel Wireless assets that Verizon was required to sell as part of its purchase of Alltel.
AT&T said it was pleased with Tuesday's announcement.
We are pleased with the Department of Justice's decision and see it as an important step toward closing our acquisition of Centennial, said Wayne Watts, AT&T's senior executive vice president and general counsel.
AT&T, which had initially said it wanted to close in the second quarter, said it now hoped to close in the fourth. The company's CEO had said in September that slower regulatory reviews would likely slow consolidation in the industry.
AT&T, the second largest U.S. wireless provider, has 79 million subscribers. It provides wireless service in 50 states.
Centennial is the 8th largest wireless provider and offers service in six states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Justice Department said. AT&T estimated Centennial had about 1.1 million wireless subscribers.
The deal was first announced in November 2008 and approved by Centennial stockholders in February.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Richard Chang, Bernard Orr)