Time Warner Inc on Thursday made official plans to separate its AOL division sometime around the end of this year, a widely expected move that sheds one of the media company's weakest divisions.

Time Warner, which for months has signaled such a plan was in the works, said the deal has been approved by the board and would be structured as tax-free to its stockholders. It still needs regulatory approval.

Once completed, the deal would once again make AOL an independent, publicly traded company, and close the door on a massive merger between the two media companies in 2000 that critics say failed to live up to its promise.

The unit was once how most people found their way onto the Internet. It has since been left behind as a relic as cable and phone companies picked off subscribers and Google and others swooped in to dominate online advertising.

At the moment, Time Warner owns 95% of AOL, with Google Inc. holding the rest. Time Warner plans to purchase Google's stake then separate AOL.

Earlier this year, Time Warner Chief Executive Jeff Bewkes lured former Google Inc executive Tim Armstrong to head AOL with the possibility of leading a separation.

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