Phone Deals Dial Up Coverage Problems

AT&T Inc.’s hopes of salvaging its $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA and heading off a long court battle now rest with its ability to come up with a package of divestitures that might convince the Justice Department to drop its objections to the merger.

The problem is such asset sales have a shaky track record of preserving competition. In the Black Hills gold rush town of Deadwood, the upshot of such an order has been spotty service.

Over the years, Deadwood has seen devastating fires, a smallpox epidemic and the saloon shooting of lawman Wild Bill Hickok. In April came a new problem for some residents in Deadwood and elsewhere: On the heels of a federal order, Alltel Corp. customers had to switch to cellphone service provided by AT&T.

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