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Verizon to sell lines, including some in New England

NEW YORK -- Verizon Communications Inc. is looking at selling off phone lines in the Northeast and Midwest, the company told employees yesterday.

The company did not provide further details. The message was a partial confirmation of a report in The Wall Street Journal, which said Verizon was looking to sell 5 million phone lines on the fringes of its service area for up to $8 billion.

The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said Verizon is shopping around two packages of lines: one in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine; and another in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.

The Journal speculated that two small phone companies, CenturyTel Inc. and Citizens Communications Co., would be among them.

The article said that for tax reasons, Verizon was looking to spin off the companies to shareholders, then merge them with a company so small that Verizon shareholders would be a majority.

Stifel Nicolaus analyst Christopher King said CenturyTel shareholders would be unlikely to agree to such a deal. He pointed to even smaller companies like Iowa Telecommunications Services Inc., Fairpoint Communications Inc., and Commonwealth Telephone Enterprises Inc., as possible buyers.

Verizon is also looking to position itself as a growth company by selling its directory-publishing unit. Conversely, it wants to take full ownership of Verizon Wireless, a growth business, by buying out its partner, Vodafone Group PLC.

Shares of Verizon fell 1.6 percent to $32.34.

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