Dish, a fickle suitor, turns to its old dance partner Clearwire after Softbank-Sprint deal clears hurdle

Deal targets, beware!
Deal targets, beware!
Image: Eric Jamison/AP Images for DISH Network
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Softbank’s acquisition of Sprint Nextel is moving forward after a US government committee cleared the deal on national security grounds. Earlier today, we wondered if that would cause US satellite TV firm Dish Network to move on from its bid for Sprint  and find a new target.

We got our answer, but it’s not exactly new. Instead, Dish decided to revive a last-minute offer for the wireless broadband company Clearwire Corp, majority owned by Sprint and potentially fully owned as soon as this week.

Dish first bid for Clearwire in January to block Sprint from acquiring the 49% of the company it doesn’t already own. Dish’s new offer of $4.40 per share is about 30% more than Sprint’s, so it has a shot, but it’s cutting things pretty close: The shareholder vote on the Sprint-Clearwire deal is on Friday.

Even if it prevails, Dish can’t be anything but a minority shareholder, especially since Sprint has already secured shareholder votes that would boost its stake to more than 65%.

But Dish could make itself annoying enough to try to force Clearwire/Sprint to make a deal with Dish. Dish faces a US Federal Communications Commission deadline to buy or build a cellular network, which is why it has been talking to Clearwire, Sprint and nearly every other US mobile phone company.

Dish also hasn’t officially dropped its offer for Sprint—shareholders vote on the Softbank deal on June 12—but it doesn’t have the money to do both the Sprint and Clearwire deals. It does have a better chance of at least getting a minority stake in Clearwire. Either way, given the complicated game of musical chairs that Dish is playing, how seriously can it be taken as a suitor?