The wireless industry’s new-found focus on rural markets was spotlighted again this week, as Verizon Wireless agreed to acquire Minnesota-based Rural Cellular, a provider of mobile phone services to 716,000 customers in 15 states, for $2.67 billion in cash and debt. Announced on Monday, the transaction comes on the heels of AT&T’s $2.8 billion purchase of Dobson Communications in a transaction disclosed last month. Experts say that, as the U.S. market becomes increasingly saturated, large national wireless carriers are looking increasingly toward rural markets as an untapped source of growth. Representing a 41% premium to Rural Cellular’s closing stock price last Friday, the pact would provide Rural Cellular stockowners with a cash payment of $45 for every share held. Verizon would also assume approximately $1.9 billion in Rural Cellular debt. Contingent upon receipt of shareholder and regulatory approvals, the parties expect to complete the deal early next year. Lowell McAdam, the president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, observed that “the addition of Rural Cellular’s markets will enable us to expand our services into areas where previously we had little or no presence.”