* Bid for Clearwire is genuine, despite speculation - Ergen
* Says needs a partner for wireless
By Ronald Grover and Liana B. Baker
DANA POINT, Calif., Feb 11 (Reuters) - Dish Network Corp Chairman Charlie Ergen dismissed speculation his surprise $2.3 billion bid for Clearwire Corp was “illusory,” saying that he wanted a stake in the wireless company and that rival bidder Sprint Nextel would have to work to fend off Dish.
Last month, Dish announced it had made an offer of $3.30 per share for Clearwire, which had already agreed to sell itself to majority owner Sprint for $2.97 per share. A special committee on the Clearwire board is now reviewing the offer.
The 59-year-old Ergen told the AllThingsDigital “Dive into Media” conference on Monday that he fully intended to go through with the bid. Addressing speculation about his plans for some $3 billion in purchased wireless spectrum, he explained he did not intend to sell it.
“Sprint will have to do something different than they are doing today to keep us out,” the hard-charging, outspoken billionaire told an audience of media industry professionals and investors.
Analysts say Sprint - which had earlier agreed to sell 70 percent of its shares to Japan’s SoftBank Corp for $20 billion - may have to raise its bid to thwart Ergen.
Dish has not explained why it bid for Clearwire. While some analysts speculate it may simply be hoping to gain leverage in talks with Sprint about a network partnership, others suggest it wants Clearwire’s spectrum.
Ergen told Reuters on Jan. 7 that he wanted to get into the wireless broadband market, but that it could take months for the company to finalize its wireless plans because of some remaining regulatory issues and wireless market consolidation.
On Monday, he told the conference he was looking for a partner for his future wireless venture.
“We want to compete against the cable guys and the mobile and to do it inside and outside the house.” he said. “Apple or Google, those guys could just go out and buy what they needed. Compared to them, we’re on food stamps.”
Ergen acknowledged that, if he is thwarted in his bid to find a partner, he might have to sell the spectrum he already owns, “but we have plan B, C, D, E and F,” too.
Ergen has raised eyebrows in the past few years by making acquisitions that do not seem core to his company’s assets, which are concentrated heavily in pay TV. He founded Dish Network in 1980 as part of a company then called EchoStar, after selling satellite dishes from the back of a truck with his wife, Cantey.
He is one of the country’s richest people with a net worth of at least $9 billion. After telling investors on conference calls for the past year that the pay TV industry had matured, he sought to diversify and bought video chain Blockbuster and companies with wireless spectrum, such as DBSD and TerreStar in 2011.