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Google sells off Clearwire stake for $47 million

The search giant doesn't say why it wants to get out of Clearwire, but it might have something to do with Clearwire's recent funding troubles and perceived weakness.

Clearwire has lost an important, but small, shareholder.

Google earlier this month sent letters to both Comcast and Sprint, informing the companies that it plans to divest its ownership in Clearwire for $47 million. That sum, which is derived from Google's sale of 29.4 million shares at $1.60 apiece, is actually a discount on Clearwire's current stock price of $2.27.

Google didn't say in the letters, dated February 7 and 16, respectively, why it has decided to step away from Clearwire. But based on Clearwire's recent funding troubles and perceived weakness, it's not much of a surprise.

Over the past several years, Clearwire has been posting huge losses. In the past four years alone, the company has lost nearly $2 billion, leaving its major shareholder, Sprint Nextel, in the unenviable position of needing to bail it out.

That bailout came late last year when Sprint announced that it would hand over as much as $1.6 billion in funding to Clearwire to help the company build TD-LTE sites around the U.S.

"The agreements also establish long-term usage-based pricing for LTE services for 2012 and beyond," Sprint said in a statement at the time. "The companies have agreed to collaborate on a network build plan and will jointly select LTE macro-cell sites to cover Sprint's high usage area 'hotspots.'"

Clearwire hopes to have 5,000 LTE sites in operation by the middle of next year. It marks a significant change in course for the company, which decided years ago to invest in the ill-fated WiMax technology. The move crippled Clearwire and left it searching for cash.

Interestingly, when Clearwire initiated that search, it fell on deaf ears at Google. While Sprint handed over cash, Google decided against it.

Google's apprehension to invest more in Clearwire seemed to signal that the company had other plans. Today's revelation seems to confirm that.

Google did not immediately respond to CNET's request for comment on why it sold off its stake in Clearwire.