FCC approval paves way for SoftBank, Sprint, Clearwire deals

Fri Jul 5, 2013 5:01pm EDT
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By Alina Selyukh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Japan's SoftBank Corp on Friday received the final approval it needed from U.S. regulators for its $21.6 billion bid to take control of Sprint Nextel Corp, the No. 3 U.S. wireless provider.

All three members of the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of the merger as well as Sprint's related plan to buy out the portion of wireless company Clearwire Corp that it does not already own.

FCC approval was the last piece that SoftBank needed after getting nods from U.S. antitrust and national security regulators as well as Sprint shareholders.

FCC's acting Chairwoman Mignon Clyburn hailed the deal.

"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 in a statement.

SoftBank buying 78 percent of Sprint marks the largest-ever overseas acquisition by a Japanese company. Masayoshi Son, the hard-driving billionaire founder of SoftBank, is looking to expand beyond the mature Japanese cellphone market.

Sprint needs that investment to help it pay for a network upgrade and step up competition with No. 1 and No. 2 rival providers AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc.. The money would also help pay for the Clearwire buyout.

Clearwire, in which Sprint already owns a majority stake, is important to the merger by SoftBank and Sprint because it holds a large amount of wireless airwaves, or spectrum, which will help Sprint compete against its bigger rivals.   Continued...

A shop clerk is seen through a window displaying a logo of SoftBank Corp at its branch in Tokyo June 21, 2013. REUTERS/Issei Kato