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Sprint execs exit Clearwire's board

Thu, 09/30/2010 - 8:20am
Mike Robuck, CED & Maisie Ramsay, Wireless Week

Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse and two other Sprint executives have resigned from Clearwire's board of directors.

In addition to Hesse, Sprint's Keith Cowan and Steven Elfman also resigned from the board. Clearwire said in a press release this morning that the decision by Sprint to remove its executives from the board was "made out of an abundance of caution to address questions raised by Clearwire regarding new developments in antitrust law."

Sprint's actions was related to the Supreme Court decision in American Needle vs. the National Football League (NFL), which could affect how the Clayton Act applies to Sprint's presence on Clearwire's board of directors.

The Clayton Act bars executives from serving as a director or officer at two or more different corporations that compete or are engaged in commerce with each other. Sprint owns a majority stake in Clearwire but the companies offer competing services under their own respective brands.

Sprint owns 54 percent of Clearwire while Comcast has a 9 percent stake. Comcast recently said it wouldn't invest more in Clearwire. Other investors in 4G provider Clearwire include Time Warner Cable, Google, Intel and Bright House Networks.

Last month Clearwire introduced a "pay as you go" 4G mobile broadband service. There has been some speculation that Clearwire's investors aren't happy with the new service, or the amount of 4G coverage that is currently available.

While Clearwire said the decision for the Sprint execs to leave its board was due to antitrust laws, there was some speculation in the media this morning that the move may clear the way for an investment in Clearwire by T-Mobile USA.

According to a Dow Jones newswire story, Clearwire CEO Bill Morrow has acknowledged discussions with T-Mobile, which is the U.S. wireless arm of Deutsche Telekom AG, in regards to a potential resale or investment partnership.

Clearwire's board structure allows for 13 members, seven of which Sprint has the right to appoint. The remaining four Sprint appointees to the Clearwire board are unchanged, and Sprint reserved the right to appoint new members to the Clearwire board at a later date.?

A spokeswoman for Sprint said in the Dow Jones story that the company planned to appoint new directors to Clearwire's board over the coming months. Until the replacement directors are appointed, Sprint general counsel Charles Wunsch will serve as an independent observer to the Clearwire board.

Clearwire and Clearwire announced this morning that their 4G mobile broadband services launched in Pittsburg and Minneapolis.

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