2012 International Consumer Electronics Show
The Verizon Communications Inc. logo is seen at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.  Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here's How Many Dial-Up Subscribers Verizon Is Buying

May 12, 2015

Verizon is buying AOL for $4.4 billion in cash, the companies announced Tuesday morning.

As Fortune's Erin Griffith rightly points out, the deal is mostly a way for Verizon to get its hands on AOL's advertising technology and video content operations:

Last year, the company earned $995 million from display and search ads on the media properties it owns. It earned almost as much — $856 million — from selling ads for third party sites. That’s the advertising technology business, and it’s AOL’s fastest-growing segment. It grew 39% between 2013 and 2014. Contrast that with revenue from its in-house media operations during the same period, where display ads fell 3% and search ads grew just 4%.

But if the merger goes through, Verizon will also acquire something more unusual: AOL's approximately 2.2 million dial-up subscribers. That's right — up to 2.2 million people still pay AOL to hear this sound every day:

The dial-up business is a mixed bag for AOL. The company's adjusted operating income from the unit that includes dial-up subscriptions is down 8% year-over-year for the first quarter of 2015. But that unit still generated $126.6 million for the first quarter, compared to $104.1 million for the company as a whole.

Millions of people are still paying AOL for painfully slow dial-up Internet access for a few different reasons. At an average price of $20 a month, AOL's dial-up is typically cheaper than broadband Internet, making it an attractive choice for poorer households. Meanwhile, 19 million Americans lack access to broadband Internet, per the Federal Communications Commission, meaning upgrading isn't an option. And some of those AOL dial-up "customers" aren't actually paying for the service at all. Instead, they're getting their connection for free after threatening to cancel their subscription.

What Verizon does with AOL's dial-up subscribers — or the rest of the company, for that matter — remains to be seen.

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