Forbes.com: AOL Undone

Forbes.com is running a pretty intriguing article on who might buy AOL based on it’s dropped value and the alleged interest of AOLTW to sell. Personally I can’t see Microsoft allowing anyone – especially Yahoo to outbid them.

“If Yahoo! is worth $18 billion, then I think you can make a case that AOL is worth more than zero,” says Fahnestock & Co. analyst Peter Mirsky, who notes that conservative estimates value the online unit at about $7 billion.

Certainly now is not the time for AOL and Time Warner to separate. That would only guarantee a rock-bottom price tag, a valuation that will surely improve with time. Meanwhile, the pending initial public offering of the Time Warner cable properties, which could raise $4 billion, promises a more immediate windfall. And that’s not to mention the $750 million in found money that the courts ordered Microsoft to pay last week to settle AOL’s antitrust claims.

When the time does come, Internet outfits struggling to boost their own subscription services are logical buyers. “[Microsoft’s Internet service provider] MSN would be salvaged overnight,” says Bibb. “And with AOL subscribers, Yahoo! would have a complete business model. They need another leg on the chair besides advertising, and they’ve been adding all these little subscription services, but this is the one they want.”

Also on Bibb’s list of likely suitors are Baby Bells like SBC, BellSouth or Verizon Communications. “They’d love to have 26 million [U.S.] subscribers that they could market phone and Internet service to and then gradually upgrade them to broadband,” he says.

Narrowband has been all but left for dead, but it’s still got some life in it. Right now 70% of the 75 million households online use dial-up, according to broadband research analyst Gary Arlen. He estimates that in the next few years that proportion will dip to 50%.

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