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The Second Breakup of AT&T

The telecom giant is trying to unwind much of its M&A spree, but finding buyers hasn’t been easy.

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Illustration: Joseph P. Kelly

AT&T Inc. has been called many things over its 135-year history: Ma Bell, monopoly, media conglomerate. 

The company, which traces its roots to the patent rights of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, was the dominant phone company for much of the 20th century. So dominant, in fact, that it was broken up in 1982 as part of an agreement with antitrust authorities. But those businesses eventually began to merge, culminating with SBC Communications — one of the so-called Baby Bells — acquiring AT&T in 2005 and taking the name.