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posted a solid first quarter Wednesday, led by continued wireless gains and a company-best performance in adding fast Internet subscribers.

For its first quarter ended March 31, the New York telco earned $1.76 billion, or 63 cents a share, up from the year-ago $1.12 billion, or 43 cents a share. Revenue rose 6.6% from a year ago to $18.17 billion.

The figures beat the Thomson First Call analyst consensus estimate, which called for a 60-cent profit on sales of $18.11 billion.

Verizon cited the latest strong performance at its Verizon Wireless unit, which the company operates as a joint venture with the U.K.'s


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. Verizon Wireless added 1.64 million customers in the first quarter, giving it 45.5 million customers. Revenue rose 20% from a year ago to $7.4 billion, led by a 2.1% gain in monthly service revenue per customer. Churn, a measure of monthly customer defections, dropped to 1.33%.

The results come on the heels of strong results from the company's service rivals. Verizon Wireless is the No. 2 U.S. wireless carrier, behind the








and ahead of a soon-to-be beefed-up




Like rival telco SBC, Verizon also cited stronger-than-expected gains in picking up fast Internet service users. The company added 385,000 digital subscriber line customers in the latest quarter, its best-ever performance. Verizon said data revenue rose 11.6% from a year ago, while long-distance revenue rose 8.3%.

The company said so-called bundling -- the practice of selling more than one service to a user -- covered 58% of customers in the latest quarter, up from 51% a year ago.

Access lines fell 5.1% from a year ago as the company's local phone business continues to suffer at the hands of wireless service gains.

The earnings come as Verizon battles with rival



over the acquisition of



. Verizon agreed in February to buy the long-distance telco, but Qwest's repeated efforts to win Qwest's hand seemed to bear some fruit last weekend when MCI's board deemed Qwest's the superior bid. Investors are now waiting to see whether Verizon will raise its bid a second time or simply walk away.

On Tuesday, Verizon closed at $34.