AOL Europe brushes off takeover rumours

Internet service providers keen to acquire the the European operations of Time Warner's American Online division should look...

Internet service providers keen to acquire the the European operations of Time Warner's American Online division should look elsewhere for expansion opportunities, warned Time Warner chief executive officer Richard Parsons.

Parsons called AOL Europe's turnaround of its once-ailing operations "a pretty interesting success story" and said that rumours of him holding talks to sell the European business were off the mark.

However, Wanadoo chairman and CEO Olivier Sichel revealed in a radio interview earlier this week that he is interested in all opportunities to expand his company's European presence, including a purchase of AOL Europe. Sichel said he expected further consolidation in the European ISP market.

"We have held no talks with Time Warner about AOL Europe but as we have said all along, we aim to strengthen our business in Europe and that means we will study all options," a France Telecom spokeswoman said yesterday.

France Telecom, which spun off Wanadoo into an independent unit a couple of years ago, remains the major shareholder.

Rumours still abound that Deutsche Telekom is also still interested, even if chairman and CEO Kai-Uwe Ricke denied holding talks to acquire AOL in November.

And speculation over T-Online's acquisitiveness has flourished since the German internet company confirmed surplus capital of more than €4bn days before November's news conference with Ricke. T-Online CEO Thomas Holtrop said some of that money will be used for acquisitions in the months ahead.

"We are generally interested in increasing our market presence in Europe and are taking steps in this direction," said T-Online spokesman Michael Schlechtriem, pointing to the December acquisition of Swiss ISP Scout25.

John Blau writes for IDG News Service

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