Trio of Sprint execs step down from Clearwire board

Antitrust concerns prompt resignations of Sprint Nextel CEO, two others

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Responding to concerns over recent developments in antitrust law, Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse and two other Sprint executives have stepped down from the board of directors of wireless broadband services provider Clearwire Corp.

Clearwire (NASDAQ: CLWR) is a joint venture formed in 2008 by Sprint, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Google Intel Capital and Bright House Networks, but Sprint owns 51 percent of the company. Prior to the resignations, seven of the 13 board members were Sprint appointees.

According to a Clearwire press release, the company was informed by Sprint that the resignations "were made out of an abundance of caution to address questions raised by Clearwire regarding new developments in antitrust law." (An "abundance of caution"? Who talks like that?)

The other Sprint executives resigning from the board are Keith O. Cowan and Steven L. Elfman, both officers of Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S). Cowan is Sprint's president of strategy and corporate initiatives, while Elfman serves as president of network operations and wholesale. The departures leave only four Sprint appointees on the board, though "Sprint reserved the right to appoint new members" at a later date, Clearwire said.

The legal case that prompted Clearwire's concerns and Sprint's move was a Supreme Court decision in American Needle Inc. vs. National Football League, according to IDG News Service:

In the American Needle decision, the Supreme Court allowed a lawsuit to go forward over whether the NFL and its member teams could grant an exclusive license to one vendor to make team merchandise. Clearwire said its concerns revolved around the Clayton Act, which is designed to stop anti-competitive practices.

Sprint's "abundance of caution" was well-received on Wall Street. Sprint Nextel shares were up 25 cents, or 0.54 percent, to 4.63 in late afternoon trading, while Clearwire was up 16 cents, or 2.02 percent, to 8.09. Earlier in the day Clearwire had reached 8.82, a 52-week high.

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