FCC approves deals between Softbank, Sprint, Clearwire

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that SoftBank has been approved to acquire 78 percent of Sprint.


A Sprint logo is displayed on a store in Homestead, Pa., on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)

The Federal Communications Commission has signed off on deals between Sprint, Clearwire and the Japanese carrier Softbank.

The action, announced Friday, approved Softbank’s $21.6 billion proposal for a 78 percent stake in Sprint, the final regulatory hurdle for the deal. It also gave a green light for Sprint to move forward with a $3.7 billion acquisition of outstanding shares in Clearwire, a firm in which Sprint already owns 51 percent of shares.

The deals will help Sprint bankroll its planned transition to a 4G LTE (long-term evolution) network, which allows for higher speeds on the mobile network.

The deal between Sprint and Softbank has also been approved by the Department of Justice and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States. Reports that the commission had agreed to okay the deal had been circulating for more than a week until and Sprint and Softbank confirmed the approval on Wednesday.

Sprint chief executive Dan Hesse said Friday that he was pleased by the deal, which he said will help Sprint better compete against the top two wireless carriers in the country — Verizon and AT&T.

“Just two years ago, the wireless industry was at the doorstep of duopoly,” Hesse said in a statement. “But with these transformative transactions, we are one step closer to a stronger Sprint, which will better serve consumers, challenge the market share leaders and drive innovation in the American economy.”

Acting FCC Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn said the acquisitions should improve competition among the wireless carriers and serve the public interest.

“The increased investment in Sprint’s and Clearwire’s networks is likely to accelerate deployment of mobile broadband services and enhance competition in the mobile marketplace, promoting customer choice, innovation and lower prices,” Clyburn said.

Lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D- N.Y.) had raised concerns about the deal between Sprint and Softbank because of the Japanese firm’s business relationship with Huawei — a Chinese telecom firm that has been under scrutiny by the House Intelligence Committee.

Under the deal approved by CFIUS, Sprint and SoftBank agreed to appoint an independent, voting member to its board to serve as security director. This board member, who must be approved by the government, will be charged with ensuring the agreement has been followed. He or she must have the appropriate security clearances and will be the government’s contact for all security-related issues.

The CFIUS approval required also gave the federal government the right to approve and review certain Sprint vendors and service providers. It also included provisions for the Clearwire deal: U.S. officials will have a onetime right to remove any equipment within the Sprint or Clearwire network by Dec. 31, 2016.

In her statement, Clyburn said that the agreement with Sprint and Softbank complies with the FCC’s rules on foreign ownership.

Both deals are expected to close early this month, according to a Friday statement from Sprint, Clearwire and SoftBank.

Related stories:

Sprint, SoftBank get clearance on national security concerns

SoftBank acquires 70 percent of Sprint

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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