Integra Telecom OK’s Qwest, CenturyLink Merger

Integra Telecom, a company that previously disapproved of Qwest's and CenturyLink's proposed merger, has reached an agreement with the companies and will no longer stand in the way.

Denver-based Qwest Communications International, Inc., and Monroe, Louisiana-based CenturyLink, Inc., announced Monday that the companies have reached an agreement with Integra Telecom, Inc., under which the company will no longer oppose the transaction.

Qwest announced in April that it had agreed to be sold to CenturyLink in a stock swap worth about $10.6 billion. Shareholders from both companies overwhelmingly approved the merger in August.

Portland, Oregon-based Integra Telecom is one of several Qwest competitors that has expressed concern about the company's proposed merger with CenturyLink. Many smaller competitors share portions of Qwest's phone network and access services at a wholesale prices, and some have questioned whether the merged companies will be able to meet federal rules requiring the transaction to “serve the public interest” and foster competition.

“After extensive negotiations over the last month, we are pleased to have arrived at an agreement that resolves all of our issues with the merger,” Dudley Slater, CEO of Integra Telecom, said in a statement. “This addresses the concerns we had regarding the potential risks the merger posed, and from our perspective, the merger is in the public interest and should be approved.”

Integra Telecom did not disclose specific details of the agreement, but company spokesman John Nee told Twin Cities Business in a Monday e-mail that it “preserves our ability to compete, which in turn allows consumers to continue to enjoy the natural benefits of competition-lower prices, product innovation, and improved customer service.” He also said that Qwest's interconnection agreements have been extended, which will provide competitors “an important measure of certainty regarding wholesale prices and service availability.”

In addition to the agreement with Integra Telecom, Qwest and CenturyLink have gained support for the merger from other competitors that share portions of their networks, as well as state entities, including Minnesota's Department of Commerce. The companies also recently announced that two unions-the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-have agreed that the proposed purchase is in the public's interest.

Qwest is Minnesota's largest telecommunications provider and employs roughly 3,400 in the state. It is reported to be the nation's third-largest phone company-and CenturyLink is the country's fifth-largest.

Qwest and CenturyLink have received more than half of the regulatory approvals required to complete the merger, but the companies still need approval from nine states and the Federal Communications Commission. The companies expect to complete the transaction during the first half of 2011.