US telecom regulator FCC has voted to approve Softbank's planned $21.6 billion (€16.7 billion) acquisition of 78% of Sprint Nextel, according to multiple reports citing insider sources.
All three FCC members have voted in favor of both the Softbank-Sprint merger, and Sprint's own planned acquisition of the remaining shares in wireless broadband affiliate Clearwire, the sources told news outlets including Reuters.
The agency's review focused on whether the deals were in the public interest. Sprint's rivals had been opposing the mergers due to concerns it would give a combined Sprint-Clearwire too much spectrum, exceeding the “screen” put in place to ensure fair distribution.
But the FCC had already been counting Clearwire spectrum as part of Sprint's ownership quota, and considers Clearwire spectrum to be less valuable, and thus count for a lower portion of the cap, than equivalent spectrum held by incumbents Verizon and AT&T.
FCC approval is the last remaining regulatory hurdle to clear before Softbank can complete its acquisition. Sprint already has the approval of its own investors for the sale, and the approval of the Clearwire board for its $5 a share buyout offer.
The purchase price for both Sprint and Clearwire had been driven up by unsolicited rival bids from US satellite TV and internet provider Dish Network.
Separately, Softbank's domestic rival NTT DoCoMo has revealed that it too has expansion on its mind. But unlike Softbank's entry into a mature telecom market, DoCoMo is eyeing emerging Asian regions for growth.
In an interview with Bloomberg, DoCoMo president Kaoru Kato said the company will consider network acquisitions in emerging Asian markets “if there is an opportunity.”
He also said the company plans to hold on to its 26% stake in India's Tata Teleservices. This could complicate the rumored negotiations over a merger between Tata Teleservices and Sistema's Indian operations, because the proposed deal was said to involve DoCoMo exiting the venture.