Net Neutrality Provision Gets 5.9 Percent of AT&T Shareholder Votes

Supporters of the proposal call the vote a success because it will come back up next year

About 5.9 percent of AT&T shareholders have voted for a proposal calling on the company to commit to net neutrality principles on its wireless networks, but supporters of the measure called the vote a success.

The vote, at AT&T's annual meeting in Salt Lake City Friday, met the 3 percent threshold for the proposal to be automatically placed on next year's ballot, according to Trillium Asset Management, the investment advisor that presented the proposal to AT&T shareholders. Investors holding AT&T stock worth about US$11.4 billion voted in favor of the resolution, Trillium said.

An AT&T spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote.

Supporters of the measure will continue to press the issue with shareholders and AT&T management, said Jonas Kron, vice president at Trillium. The goal of supporters this year was to meet the 3 percent threshold set by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for resubmitting a proposal, he said in an email.

"This means that the issue is going to remain on the company's agenda with its shareholders for at least another year," he said.

Supporters see the issue as a long-term one, especially because the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's 2010 net neutrality rules face court challenges, Kron added. Shareholder efforts to require corporate disclosure of political spending started in 2004, with an average vote of about 9 percent in favor, he said. Since then, about 100 corporations have adopted political disclosure rules.

One large proxy advisory firm "gave a very qualified recommendation to vote against the proposal and it's not at all clear that as net neutrality continues to develop and grow" that the firm will continue to side with AT&T against the measure, Kron said.

Similar proposals on wireless network neutrality are scheduled for votes at the upcoming annual meetings of Verizon Communications on May 3 and Sprint Nextel on May 15.

The net neutrality provisions ask the carriers to pledge to avoid selectively degrading connections to some Internet content in favor of content they are affiliated with.

The proposals ask each company to publicly commit to "operate a neutral network with neutral routing along the company's wireless infrastructure such that the company does not privilege, degrade or prioritize any packet transmitted over its wireless infrastructure based on its source, ownership or destination."

The proposals at AT&T and Verizon were filed by Trillium, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Benedictine Sisters of Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, and several individual investors including Michael "Mike D" Diamond of music group the Beastie Boys. The proposal at Sprint was filed by the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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