Skype to start charging U.S., Canada users for calls

Internet phone service provider Skype plans to start charging U.S. and Canadian users US$29.95 per year for unlimited calls to regular phones in both countries, as the end of a free trial offer looms.

Users who sign up before Jan. 31, 2007, will receive a special rate of $14.95 a year and 100 free minutes of international calling, Skype said on Wednesday. Any user wishing to continue using Skype to make calls to regular phones or mobile handsets after the free trial expires Dec. 31, but does not want a yearly plan, can pay for SkypeOut at a rate of 2.1 cents per minute for calls within the U.S. and Canada.

Computer-to-computer calls using Skype software will remain free.

Skype allows users to make voice and video calls to regular landlines, mobile phones, or PCs over the Internet. The company’s popular software can also be used to share files, send instant messages, conduct conference calls, and more.

The new plan to start charging users for calls to regular phones comes just six months after Skype launched a free trial of its VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) service in both countries. The company is part of a growing trend of users making voice calls over the Internet at rates far lower than traditional phone companies charge.

The plan also pits Skype against other Internet calling carriers, such as Vonage Holdings, which offers a $24.99 monthly package in the U.S. that includes calls to several European countries such as the U.K., Spain and France, as well as extras such as voice mail, 911 emergency-dialing and a free phone adapter.

Skype, a Luxembourg company bought by eBay last year, already serves more than 136 million registered users globally, as of the end of September 2006. The company made a name for itself by offering free PC-to-PC calls over the Internet with the aid of its free software. New Skype-enabled devices able to link to the Internet, such as mobile phones able to connect to wireless-LAN networks, continue to become available.

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