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Tele-Communications Inc., the nation's biggest cable television company, will buy TeleCable Corp., the 18th largest, in a deal valued at more than $1.4 billion, the companies said.

TCI has agreed to give Tele-Cable shareholders stock valued at about $1.2 billion and will assume about $250 million in debt.The deal provides another example of TCI Chief Executive John Malone's ambitions to expand the reach of his company despite critics' complaints that he already wields far too much influence in the cable industry.

Malone's defenders say his company must grow in advance of anticipated competition from telecommunications companies on delivering video, phone and other services to homes.

TCI is the runaway leader among cable system operators with about 10.5 million cable subscribers and owns wide-ranging interests in cable networks ranging from Cable News Network to the Home Shopping Network.

It recently agreed to increase its stake in the shopping channel operator QVC Inc. and reportedly is talking about a cable systems venture with the entertainment company Viacom Inc.

TeleCable, a privately owned company that owns cable systems in Norfolk, Va., has about 740,000 subscribers and generated $300 million in revenue last year.

It operates in 15 states in the South and Sun Belt, and many of its systems are near systems operated by TCI such as in the Dallas, Kansas City, southern Florida and Greenville-Spartanburg, S.C., markets.

The research firm Paul Kagan Associates in Carmel, Calif., said TeleCable was the 18th largest U.S. cable operator as measured by subscribers on March 31.

Under terms of the deal, TeleCable shareholders would receive more than 41.6 million shares of TCI CLass A common stock plus preferred stock that could be converted into 10 million more shares of TCI common stock.

TCI Class A stock fell 31.3 cents a share to $22.75 a share Monday in trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market. At that price, the TCI stock involved in the deal would be worth about $1.17 billion.

The merger requires approval of TeleCable shareholders, franchise authorities and other regulators.

TeleCable shareholders would own 7.6 percent of TCI.