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FCC approves Verizon/Alltel merger after delay

The FCC delayed its meeting for more than four hours to negotiate conditions for its approval of the Verizon Wireless acquisition of Alltel.

The Federal Communications Commission approved the $28 billion acquisition between Verizon Wireless and Alltel on Tuesday after a four hour delay in which commissioners negotiated terms of the deal.

The meeting was supposed to start at 11 a.m. EST. But didn't actually get under way until nearly 4 p.m. EST.

The delay was attributed to discussions among commissioners and Verizon to hammer out a deal that satisfied concerns over roaming conditions put on the deal.

During the meeting, the two Democratic commissioners on the FCC, Michael Copps and Jonathan Adelstein, expressed concern that combining Verizon and Alltel will limit the number of roaming partners that smaller carriers in rural markets could work with. And as a result, they say this will limit competition and drive up prices for consumers.

As part of a compromise, Verizon agreed to keep its roaming rates the same for the next four years.

Verizon Wireless, which is jointly owned by Verizon Communications and Vodafone, announced its plan to buy regional operator Alltel earlier this year, in a deal that will make it the largest wireless operator in the U.S. The phone company won approval for the deal from the U.S. Department of Justice last week.

The FCC had also been expected to approve the merger. But like the Justice Department, which is requiring Verizon to sell off assets in 22 states, the FCC was also expected to put its own conditions on the merger.

In addition to keeping roaming rates the same, the FCC is also requiring Verizon to divest service in a total of 100 markets. It is also requiring e911 accuracy and Universal Service Fund contributions.

The FCC's original agenda for the November 4 meeting had been packed full. But over the past two days, the FCC has managed to whittle down the agenda, approving three minor issues and tabling one controversial issue. Of the original seven agenda items, only three remain, including an item that deals with opening up "white space" spectrum for unlicensed use.

For more on the FCC meeting, check back later when more updates will be posted.