Sprint leaders quit Clearwire board

CEO Dan Hesse and two other executives resigned out of "caution" because of antitrust concerns

Sprint Nextel CEO Dan Hesse and two other Sprint executives have resigned from the board of Clearwire "out of an abundance of caution" after Clearwire raised concerns about possible antitrust issues, Clearwire said Thursday.

Clearwire had raised the concerns after recent developments in antitrust law including a Supreme Court decision in American Needle Inc. vs. National Football League, the company said in a press release. Sprint owns a majority stake in Clearwire, a joint venture that was formed in 2008 with wireless broadband provider Clearwire and other partners, including Google and cable operators, that invested in the company.

The executives resigned effective immediately. In addition to Hesse, also resigning were Keith Cowan, Sprint's president of strategy and corporate initiatives, and Steve Elfman, president of network operations and wholesale.

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 anticompetitive practices.

Clearwire is building a mobile WiMax network that Sprint and other partners are using to deliver high-speed wireless data service. It intends to reach 120 million U.S. residents by the end of this year.

Under the rules of the joint venture, Sprint has the right to appoint seven members of the board, which has 13 total members, according to Sprint spokesman Scott Sloat. The company only removed its members that are Sprint executives, and its four other appointees remain on the board, Sloat said. The concerns about antitrust law revolved around the place of Sprint executive officers on the Clearwire board, he said.

Sprint plans to name three new independent directors in the next few months to take the seats of Hesse and the other two executives, Sloat said.

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