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Justice Dept. Clears Cingular Acquisition Of AT&T Wireless

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Justice Department antitrust regulators cleared the way Monday for Cingular Wireless LLC's $41 billion acquisition of AT&T Wireless Services Inc., a crucial step toward creating the nation's largest wireless telephone company.

The merger still must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. That could come as early as Tuesday.

Under an agreement with the Justice Department filed in federal court in Washington, Cingular must divest itself of the new combined company's assets in 11 states.

``Without these divestitures, wireless customers in these markets would have had fewer choices for their wireless telephone service and faced the risk of higher prices, lower quality service and fewer choices for the newest high-speech mobile wireless data services,'' said R. Hewitt Pate, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's antitrust division.

The merger will give Cingular, a joint venture between BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc., 47.6 million subscribers. That would top Verizon Wireless, the current market leader with 40.4 million customers as of midyear, while paring the number of national cell phone providers to five.

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