Dish Network asks FCC to slow its Sprint-Softbank merger review

Dish Network asked U.S. regulators to pause their consideration of Softbank’s proposed $20 billion purchase of Sprint Nextel as the satellite television provider pursues Sprint partner Clearwire.

Tokyo-based Softbank’s bid for Sprint is “unripe for consideration” because maneuvering continues surrounding Dish’s counteroffer for Clearwire, Dish said in a filing at the Federal Communications Commission.

Dish offered $3.30 a share for wireless operator Clearwire, which agreed to be bought out by Sprint for $2.97 a share.

It has made no decision to reconsider Sprint’s offer, but Clearwire said it planned to talk to Dish, which is led by chairman Charlie Ergen, and will keep its options open by not drawing on financing offered by Sprint.

Sprint, based in Overland Park and the nation’s third-largest wireless carrier, owns slightly more than half of Clearwire and has said it won’t let Ergen’s bid succeed.

John Taylor, a spokesman for Sprint, declined to comment, as did Justin Cole, a spokesman for the FCC.

The FCC has asked for comments on Softbank’s bid for Sprint by Jan. 28. Consideration should be stopped until “the resolution of significant unresolved contingencies” in Sprint’s offer to acquire all of Clearwire, Dish said in its filing.

“This is a negotiating tactic for Ergen,” said Amy Yong, an analyst at Macquarie Securities in New York.

Ergen wants to force Sprint into talks on sharing airwaves, Yong said.

Ergen has said he wants to add spectrum — the airwaves that let mobile devices operate — to compete with AT&T and Verizon Wireless in the mobile phone business. Last month, the FCC approved Dish’s plan to operate wireless devices on airwaves formerly devoted mainly to satellite services.

Also Thursday, Clearwire shareholder Taran Asset Management joined the chorus of investors asking Sprint to raise its bid for the wireless network operator. The financial firm plans to file a complaint with the FCC today arguing that Clearwire is worth more than what Sprint is offering, said Chris Gleason, a principal at New York-based Taran.

“To pretend they don’t have to raise their bid is silly,” he said, referring to Sprint officials.