Clearwire board backs Dish’s bid; tells Sprint to shove off

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Sprint may think that Dish Network’s latest proposal to invest in Clearwire is illegal, but Clearwire’s board doesn’t agree. The WiMAX operator said today it has switched its allegiance from Sprint to Dish.

The board rescheduled this week’s shareholder meeting for June 24, recommending that stockholders vote against Sprint’s most recent offer to take over the company, and vote for Dish’s $4.40-per-share bid instead.

The two companies have been dueling over Clearwire for the last five months, each with different plans in mind for the prize. Sprint is trying to get its house in order before its pending acquisition by SoftBank, and Dish is trying to find a network operator partner to launch its LTE network. The bad blood between them has been viscous, and Dish has even challenged the Softbank deal with its own counter offer for Sprint.

The outcome Dish-Clearwire tie-up would be entirely different than a Sprint-Clearwire deal. Sprint is already the largest stakeholder in Clearwire, and is trying to buy out the company completely. Dish is trying to assume enough of stake — possible as little as 25 percent — to ensure Sprint won’t railroad it when it tries to work Clearwire in the future. Dish owns satellite spectrum that’s been newly repurposed for LTE use, but it owns no network. Clearwire has the network infrastructure and expertise to deploy to launch that network.

The question remains whether Sprint will now raise its bid enough to turn the tide in its favor. If it doesn’t it might actually jeopardize its deal with SoftBank, which has taken an acute interest in the loads of spectrum Clearwire holds.

It’s a bizarre love-hate quadrangle between four communications companies with vastly different agendas. How will it turn out? Your guess is as good as mine.

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