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Sprint, Nextel shareholders approve merger

Wednesday's votes supporting the $36 billion deal are just the latest example of investor enthusiasm for telecom consolidation.

Shareholders of Sprint and Nextel Communications have approved the two operators' merger plans, which will create the nation's third-largest cell phone carrier.

About 70 percent of Nextel's shareholders and more than 90 percent of Sprint's shareholders gave the planned deal the thumbs-up during separate votes Wednesday.

Sprint's proposed purchase of Nextel for about $36 billion must still be approved by the Federal Communications Commission.

"The Sprint and Nextel merger is a bold move that will allow the newly merged company to play a winning hand," Sprint Chairman Gary Forsee said in a statement.

The confidence expressed Wednesday by the shareholders is part of an overall mood of investor acceptance for major telecommunication mergers, even though the consolidating phone industry will likely mean higher-priced phone calls because there will be less competition.

Merger mania began in 2004, when top-tier cell phone operators AT&T Wireless and Cingular Wireless merged. Shareholders also overwhelmingly approved that deal. Cingular is now the No. 1 carrier in the United States, followed by Verizon Wireless.

Also, local phone giant SBC Communications is buying rival AT&T for $16 billion. And a drawn-out bidding war for MCI, which pitted would-be buyers Qwest Communications International against Verizon Communications, ended recently with Verizon as the apparent winner.

Additionally, a number of failing rural cell phone operators have been devoured by second-tier wireless carriers.