Skype customers shut out of service

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FRANKFURT, Germany -- Skype, the popular computer program that lets its users make long-distance phone calls over the Internet, said Thursday that software problems have left many of its millions of users without service worldwide.

The company, a division of online auction company eBay Inc., said on its Web site that many users cannot log on to the free service. It was not clear how many users were affected, but Skype users in Colombia, Brazil, Germany, Finland and the U.S. reported difficulties logging on.

"Our engineering team has determined that it's a software issue," according to a site maintained by Skype. "We expect this to be resolved within 12-24 hours."

Judging from the timing of comments to that posting, some users had been without service for as long as 14 hours.

Stefan Topfer, chairman and CEO of WinWeb, a London-based provider of software for small businesses, including Skype, said the outage "is not going to stop us from working with Skype in the future."

"What I am a little bit upset about is the way this is being handled," he said, adding that despite Skype's communications to users, he's not entirely sure what had happened. "I just hope that they will learn themselves to handle situations like this better in the future."

Skype has nearly 220 million accounts, with usually 5 million-6 million users online at given time. In January, Skype reported that it had counted 9 million users online at one time.

Skype urged users to allow the program to continue running and said they would automatically be logged on when the problem is resolved. It also temporarily disabled new downloads for the program.

Skype, founded by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis, uses peer-to-peer technology to connect phone calls, instant messages and videos between its users. It runs on a variety of operating systems, including Windows, Mac OS X, PocketPC and Linux.

Besides computer-to-computer calls, Skype users can also use the program to connect to cell phones and traditional land line telephones.

The company was acquired by eBay in October 2005 for about $2.1 billion.
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