Beginning in the new year, Skype users who have delighted for almost 10 years in free international phone calls will have to pay.
Owned by eBay since 2005, Skype plans to charge $30 a year for unlimited calls made from a computer to landlines and cellular phones in the U.S. and Canada.
Although the $30 fee is nominal compared with other Internet phone plans, (and calls from one computer to another will continue to be free) critics are accusing eBay of increasing rates to capitalize on Skype's user base of 136 million clients.
With the Internet phone business booming, Skype stands to make major profits in 2007. But some say that computer calls will be slower to catch on than predicted, as Skype-type calls require a behavioral change -- meaning that most people are simply too comfortable using regular phones to bother investing in Skype headsets, software, and devices.
But Skype insists there is a method to the madness, and a broader plan is in the works. Yahoo and Google are expected to be brought on board to provide Skypers with "click-to-call" technology, enabling users to call businesses they have found during a search with one click. Programs are also in development that will allow Skype to be used on wireless phones and pocket computers. Ebay will also most likely incorporate Skype calling into the buying and selling process, allowing consumers and shop owners to communicate with audio via their computers.
What do you think? Will Internet calling be the next big thing, perhaps one day bigger than actual phones? Or will Web phones be popular amongst a select group of computer-centric individuals?