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Clearwire urges shareholders to accept Dish offer

People walk past a Sprint store in New York December 17, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
People walk past a Sprint store in New York December 17, 2012. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

By Sinead Carew

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Clearwire Corp's board urged shareholders on Wednesday to accept a tender offer from Dish Network Corp over an earlier deal with majority owner Sprint Nextel Corp to buy out the minority shareholders of the wireless service provider.

The decision was a boost for Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen who is also in a takeover battle with SoftBank Corp <9984.T> to take full control of Sprint.

Both Sprint and satellite TV service provider Dish want control of Clearwire's vast trove of wireless airwave licenses.

Dish is looking to expand into the wireless market because its traditional pay television business has matured, while No. 3 U.S. mobile provider Sprint wants to beef up its wireless network to better compete with bigger rivals Verizon Wireless and AT&T Inc .

Clearwire asked shareholders to accept Dish's tender offer of $4.40 per share based on the unanimous recommendation of a special committee set up by the board to evaluate the offer. It urged investors to vote against Sprint's $3.40 per share offer to buy the more than 49 percent of the company it does not already own.

Sprint said it was evaluating Clearwire's statement and would "review any corresponding filings before determining its next steps." It said it intends to enforce its governance rights as Clearwire's majority shareholder. It previously said its $3.40 per share bid was final.

Clearwire said it would postpone a June 13 shareholder vote on the Sprint bid until June 24. Dish said on Wednesday it was extending its tender offer for Clearwire shares to July 2 from a previous deadline of June 28.

Dish also said shareholders with 245,411 shares had tendered shares as of Tuesday, June 11.

Several Clearwire shareholders had said they were not happy with the Sprint offer even before Dish's counter bid. Clearwire shares have risen more than 25 percent since Dish announced its offer. The stock closed at $3.48 on May 29 before Ergen made the offer and was about 5 percent higher at $4.37 by the end of trading on Wednesday.

Strategic investors with 13 percent of Clearwire's public shares have already committed to vote for the Sprint offer. But it was not clear if those commitments from Intel Corp and cable companies Comcast Corp , and privately held Brighthouse Networks would be maintained after the Clearwire recommendation.

Intel declined to comment on Wednesday's developments. Comcast and Brighthouse were not immediately available for comment.

SoftBank, which approved the Sprint bid for Clearwire, had previously said it would be happy with majority ownership of Clearwire even if shareholders voted down the deal because Sprint would still control of the company.

Earlier this week, SoftBank raised its bid for Sprint to $21.6 billion for 78 percent of the company in response to Dish's offer of $25.5 billion.

(Reporting by Sinead Carew, Nicola Leske, Liana Baker, Edwin Chan and Soyoung Kim Editing by Andre Grenon)

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