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Midwest Wireless Expects Suitors

Verizon Wireless and Alltel are among those expected to bid for the customers and spectrum of Midwest Wireless, according to a published report.

The sale price could approach $1 billion, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited unnamed sources familiar with the process.

Marcia Bahr, Midwest Wireless' vice president of marketing and communications, declined comment on the report. She confirmed, however, that investment bank Bear Stearns has been hired to handle the process.

A spokesman for Bear Stearns would not comment on bidders but said the sale process will likely take several months.

Midwest Wireless was founded in 1990 and has 400,000 customers in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. It is privately owned by a group of independent telecom companies.

The Mankato, Minn.-based company recently expanded its data services network, to better support mobile Web access, picture messaging and downloads.

Midwest is shopping its assets at a time when large national wireless carriers are looking to increase their coverage and quality.

The opportunity to add spectrum has become crucial for wireless providers in the wake of mega-mergers such as Cingular's $41 billion purchase of AT&T Wireless which created the nation's largest carrier.

Alltel, which is based in Little Rock, Ark., hasn't been shy in making acquisitions. Earlier this year, it bought Western Wireless in a cash and stock deal valued at $6 billion. The acquisition made Alltel the fifth-largest wireless firm in the United States with 10 million customers.

Spokesmen for Alltel and Verizon Wireless, which is owned by Verizon Communications and Vodafone , were not immediately available.