FCC commissioners this week unanimously approved, with conditions, the merger between Alltel and Western Wireless.

The approval was expected, as combining with Western Wireless still makes Alltel only the fifth-largest wireless carrier in the United States. With the merger, Alltel will have more than 10 million U.S. wireless customers and a strong presence in rural areas. Alltel’s coverage will extend to nine new states--California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah--as a result of the merger.

Markets served by the two carriers did not overlap a great deal, but the FCC required that Alltel divest 16 markets in Arkansas, Nebraska and Kansas as a prerequisite for approving the deal.

“This action will ensure that consumers continue to receive the benefits of competition, such as lower prices and higher-quality service,” FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said in a prepared statement. “We have required divestitures, particularly in certain rural markets, to preserve competition where consumers have fewer choices for wireless service.”