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AOL future uncertain – report

Could be flogged, floated or 'restructured'

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The future of AOL is once again in the spotlight following a report that the Internet outfit could be sold off.

Citing unnamed sources, the New York Post Online reports that Time Warner's banker, Goldman Sachs, is working on a series of proposals concerning the future of AOL.

Options include flogging the business, floating it or engaging in a "significant restructuring".

The proposals are due to be discussed by senior execs next month at a board meeting.

The New York Post Online quotes a Time Warner spokesman as saying that the renewed talk of AOL's future is just "rumour".

Earlier this week AOL warned that the "significant" erosion of subscriber numbers suffered over the last year or so looks set to continue as the Internet giant faces stiffer competition from broadband and cheaper dial-up services.

In its annual report filed with the US' Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) AOL reported that the number of AOL subscribers in the US fell by 2.2m last year, from 26.5m at the end of 2002 to 24.3m at the end of 2003.

AOL blames the decline on an exodus of punters from its service and poor uptake to marketing campaigns, as consumers opted for rival dial-up services or shifted to broadband instead.

It also warned that the decline in subscriber numbers could hit revenues.

Reports of AOL's future tend to crop up from time to time. In November last year there was speculation that German ISP T-Online was in the running to buy the Internet giant although this was denied too. ®

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