Pacific Northwest Cellular, General Cellular Merge

BELLEVUE - Pacific Northwest Cellular and General Cellular Corp., both privately held, said they have combined to form a wireless telephone company, creating what they are calling the "largest rural cellular-service provider in the United States."

The new Bellevue-based company, Western Wireless Corp., will operate in 16 Western and Midwestern states, representing 5.2 million potential customers. John Stanton, formerly chairman of both Pacific Northwest Cellular and General Cellular, will be chairman and chief executive of Western Wireless.

The effect of the merger is to combine Stanton's two companies into one large company, a spokeswoman for the executive said. Stanton is a former McCaw Cellular Communications executive who has spent the past few years quietly assembling cellular licenses in rural communities.

The announcement comes amid a consolidation wave in the cellular industry. Bell Atlantic Corp. and Nynex on June 30 said they were combining their wireless phone services to create a $1.2 billion, nationwide network to rival a proposed hookup between AT&T Corp. and

McCaw. In July, US West Inc. and AirTouch Communications Inc. said they would form a $13.3 billion cellular venture.

Financial details of the Western Wireless deal were not immediately available.

"(This) allows us to provide superior cellular service for our customers and enables us to offer a wider range of wireless services in the future," Stanton said in a prepared statement.

Equity investors in Western Wireless include Goldman Sachs and Hellman & Friedman.

Information from Seattle Times business reporter O. Casey Corr is included in this report.