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Sprint shareholders OK takeover bid

Japanese firm wins out over Dish Network

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Capping a long and at times bitter takeover battle, Sprint shareholders meeting in Overland Park, Kan., overwhelmingly approved a $21.6 billion takeover bid from SoftBank, rejecting a competing offer from rival Dish Network and moving the Japan-based SoftBank one step closer to owning 78 percent of America's third-largest wireless carrier.

SoftBank now just needs approval from the Federal Communications Commission to finalize the Sprint merger, which would give Sprint the cash to compete with rivals AT&T and Verizon Wireless while giving SoftBank a foothold in the U.S. wireless market. The acquisition would be the largest ever by a Japan-based company of an overseas corporation. SoftBank's founder Masayoshi Son has said he wants the company to expand beyond the mature Japanese cellphone market.

Sprint Nextel Corp. CEO Dan Hesse thanked shareholders Tuesday for approving the merger, which both companies expect to be concluded by early July. Sprint's stock closed Tuesday essentially flat at $6.88.

"Today is a historic day for our company," Mr. Hesse said in a statement. "The transaction with SoftBank should enhance Sprint's long-term value and competitive position by creating a company with greater financial flexibility."

The Tuesday vote ended the eight-month battle for control of Sprint. SoftBank first offered to buy a 70 percent stake of Sprint in October with an initial $20.1 billion bid. But satellite TV provider Dish Network countered in April with an unsolicited $25.5 billion offer for full ownership of Sprint.

As part of its campaign, Dish ran full-page newspaper ads and created an anti-SoftBank website in May warning of cybersecurity and national security threats of SoftBank, which has ties to Chinese manufacturer Huawei Technologies. Later that month, SoftBank, cleared a major hurdle when the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. found no national security threat in the SoftBank-Sprint deal.

SoftBank sweetened its offer June 10, boosting its initial bid by $1.5 billion to $21.6 billion for a 78 percent share of Sprint. Dish withdrew its bid for Sprint several days later, deciding not to submit a revised offer.

Instead, Dish is now battling Sprint for ownership of Clearwire, which cites Sprint as its largest shareholder at 51 percent. Sprint is seeking to buy out the rest of the satellite broadcaster to build competitive high-speed network upgrades while Dish would use Clearwire to expand from its traditional pay-TV services into the wireless industry.

Last week, Sprint offered $5 a share for Clearwire Corp., a 14 percent jump from Dish's offer, which would increase Clearwire's value to $14 billion. The Sprint-Clearwire deal awaits a shareholder vote July 8.

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