MN PUC OK’s Qwest-CenturyLink Merger

Approval from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is one of the final steps toward closing the $10.6 billion merger, which the companies plan to do in April.

The multibillion-dollar acquisition of Qwest Communications International, Inc., by CenturyLink, Inc., has cleared a crucial regulatory hurdle in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Thursday approved the pending $10.6 billion merger, which the companies announced in April 2010.

The PUC's approval is one of the final steps necessary for completing the merger, which the companies hope to do in April.

The key sticking point in the deliberations surrounding the merger involves smaller competitors that depend on Qwest's systems, through which they share portions of Qwest's phone network and access services at a wholesale price. These competitors have voiced concern regarding the merged company's ability to foster competition and continue to provide access to services.

Qwest and CenturyLink have reached agreements with many of those smaller carriers, including several in Minnesota. As part of the approval process, the companies committed to investing at least $50 million in broadband infrastructure in Minnesota over five years.

“We are looking forward to bringing a wider variety of communications solutions and greater broadband availability to Minnesota than either company could offer alone,” Duane Ring, CenturyLink's northeast region president, said in a news release.

The merger has also garnered support from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, the Federal Trade Commission, key unions, competitor Integra Telecom, and 18 other states.

“We are pleased with the PUC's decision to approve our merger with CenturyLink,” John Stanoch, president of Qwest's Minnesota operations, said in a statement. “Both Qwest and CenturyLink have long and proud traditions of providing communication services in Minnesota, which will be carried on by the employees of the combined company.”

Stanoch, who has led Qwest's local operations for a decade, announced in November that he will leave the company following the merger.

To close on the transaction, the companies still must receive approval from Oregon, Washington, and the Federal Communications Commission.

Qwest is Minnesota's largest telecommunications provider and employs about 3,300 in the state. Upon announcing the potential merger, Qwest projected that the combined company will have almost 18 million phone lines in 37 states. The companies anticipate serving roughly 1.45 million lines in Minnesota following the merger.