The Internet phone industry got a couple of boosts last week.
At one end of the emerging market for online calling, freebie pioneer Skype Technologies (www.skype.com) announced it will launch a new service this week allowing Skype users to call anywhere in the world at rates mostly under 2 cents a minute.
At the other end of this fiercely competitive new business, heavyweight Verizon Communications jumped in to offer unlimited Internet calling to anywhere in the United States for $39.95 a month. (www.verizon.com/voicewing) Verizon is offering a $5 monthly discount for the first six months; customers of its DSL service get $5 more off their bills during and after that promotional period.
These rates make Verizon slightly more expensive than AT&T, which entered the Internet home phone market in February. AT&T's CallVantage service (www.att.com/voip) costs $19.99 a month for the first six months and $34.99 after that.
Both Verizon and AT&T are under pressure to keep prices low because consumers can choose from the cheaper options of such upstarts as Vonage Holdings, which sells unlimited Internet calling in the United States and Canada for $29.99 a month.
Skype's new SkypeOut service will differ from many rivals' -- and from its earlier service -- in that it will charge by the minute. Skype works only between computers equipped with its software and a microphone; SkypeOut, announced Thursday, will let users place calls from their computers to any regular phone. Company spokeswoman Kelly Larabee said calls among most industrialized countries will cost less than 2 cents a minute.
Yahoo Gets the Picture
Yahoo said last week that people with cell phone cameras can now upload their pictures directly from their phones to Yahoo's free photo-sharing service. It's a nice workaround for the maddening incompatibility between cellular networks -- many carriers make it hard to send photos taken with their phones to those on any other network. Yahoo's service works with all five major carriers that offer camera phones: AT&T Wireless, Cingular, Sprint PCS, T-Mobile and Verizon.
Travelzoo's Trying Search
New York-based Travelzoo has launched what it calls a SuperSearch that lets people shop multiple Web travel sites.
Trouble is, this free service seems heavily tilted toward advertisers. Only airlines, hotels and travel agents willing to pay Travelzoo will get their logos prominently displayed, a spokeswoman for the site said. Other carriers and agents appear in a small, drop-down menu at the bottom.
User reviews and feedback also influence the order in which listings appear, and Travelzoo spokeswoman Christie Ly said the service includes low-cost carriers missing from many big travel sites. But in our tests, SuperSearch was an inefficient, seemingly arbitrary way to wade through partial listings.
Web Joke of the Week
In case this link somehow didn't show up in your e-mail last week, check out JibJab.com. This Web cartoon, created by Los Angeles-based brothers Gregg and Evan Spiridellis, features a musical animation of George W. Bush and John Kerry indulging in juvenile name-calling to the tune of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land."
E-mail Leslie Walker at email@example.com.