Shareholders approve $67B sale of BellSouth to AT&T

ATLANTA - BellSouth Corp. shareholders Friday approved the proposed sale of their company to AT&T Inc. for $67 billion in stock. AT&T shareholders later voted to issue new stock in the combined company.

The deal would expand the reach of the nation's largest telecommunications provider and put the two companies' wireless joint venture, Cingular, under one roof.

The BellSouth vote during a special meeting in Atlanta was 97 percent in favor of the deal, which was announced March 5 and is expected to close by the end of the year.

Federal and state regulators also must approve the deal. Once the deal is completed, the BellSouth and Cingular names will be phased out.

''Our cultures are a good fit,'' BellSouth Chief Executive Duane Ackerman told shareholders.

Later, in San Antonio, AT&T shareholders voted 98 percent in favor of issuing new stock in the combined company, a necessary procedure for completing the merger.

''The timing of this merger is right and because of the experience of our team I'm confident that we can do this right, we can execute this in the proper way,'' AT&T Chief Executive Ed Whitacre said.

In papers filed with the government, AT&T and BellSouth have said that allowing the parent companies of Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless LLC to merge will help eliminate challenges they now face in managing the nation's largest cell phone provider.

In their FCC application, the companies said Cingular has been successful, but increasingly faces challenges from its management structure. San Antonio-based AT&T owns a 60 percent stake, and Atlanta-based BellSouth the rest.