AT&T shareholders pave the way for break up

Shareholders at AT&T Corp.'s annual meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, amended its corporate charter Wednesday to allow mergers, consolidations or dissolutions -- like the four-way break-up AT&T is expected to propose to shareholders later this year -- with a simple majority vote of all shares instead of a two-thirds majority.

The measure passed by a margin of about 24 to 1 among the shareholders who cast votes, according to preliminary results revealed at the meeting. With about 5 million shareholders, AT&T is among the most widely held stocks in the world. Shareholders representing about 18 percent of the company did not attend the meeting or issue a proxy, said a company spokeswoman.

AT&T expects to issue proxies for a vote to create tracking stocks for its consumer and broadband business divisions in a few months. Coupled with the spin-off of its wireless segment, the move would split AT&T into four separate companies once completed next year.

Under the old charter rules, the company would have required a two-thirds approval of its shareholders for the break-up, a hard-to-reach figure given the number of shareholders who do not vote. Most of the shares not voted belong to individuals who leave the stock in the care of their brokers. Brokerages may vote the shares for routine matters, but not for a break-up on the scale AT&T proposes.

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