UPDATED: Is Skype Blocking Ring2Skype’s Free Local Number Service?

UpdatedRing2Skype, which offers a service to enable free incoming phone calls through Skype, tipped us off that it’s been blocked by Skype since Friday of last week. The Ring2Skype service provides a local number for more than 100 destinations, allowing for contacts in those areas to reach Skype users at no cost, assuming local calls are free. Ring2Skype competes directly against the SkypeIn product that Skype sells for $60 annually, which is currently limited to 25 countries.

Here’s a brief run-down of the alleged shutdown, per a blog post from Andres Bzurovski and Sergio Fogel, who founded Ring2Skype in June 2009.

  1. On Friday, Skype decided to block our user ring2skype.net leaving us unable to connect your calls. We tried to solve the issue right away, and by Friday evening another user was set up.
  2. In order to keep on receiving the service as before we recommend that you add the user “ring2me.net” as a friend on your Skype. This can be done by clicking on the Contacts> New Contact.. on the menu bar.
  3. We have contacted Skype in order to find out the reason behind the blocking of our user, but we have not received any answer yet.
  4. We think Skype’s actions are abusive and override users’ rights for free communications, a basic principle on which the internet is based on. We believe their aim is to take us down so that our users will be forced to use their paid service.

Clearly, something is amiss although it’s possible the situation is due to a technical glitch, a back-end service change from Skype or simply a misunderstanding. On the surface, it’s logical for Bzurovski and Fogel to assume the worst: that Skype isn’t happy to offer a $60 product that competes with a free one from a third party. I checked the Skype Heartbeat page for the status of any issues or scheduled maintenance, but found no information related to the Ring2Skype outage. The Skype PR folks have told me they’re looking into the situation, but I have no official response yet. We’ll update once we hear back.

As Om said when news broke last month about Skype’s planned public offering, the company is “turning into a cash machine,” with the average paying user adding $96 annually to Skype’s bank account. Regardless of the official response yet to come, any free services that cut into Skype’s potential revenue channels are sure to be scrutinized by the company. After all, Skype didn’t build its service to be a dumb peer-to-peer pipe: Ideally, it wants to provide both the technology and the paying services that come with it.

Update: There’s an apparent lack of communication between Skype and Ring2Skype, so I’ve brokered the peace a little with follow up emails to both. This morning a Skype spokesperson emailed me this response: “We’ve looked into this and discovered that the account was blocked mistakenly due to human error and was unblocked on Saturday at 9 AM UK time as soon as Skype was notified of the error.” Upon receiving that information, I circled back with Ring2Skype and was told by them that they haven’t heard anything from Skype about the issue as of yet.

I shared the Skype response with Andres Bzurovski of Ring2Skype, who then tested their service and found it to be working again. Through email, Bzurovski said, “Although we have not recieved any type of communications from Skype letting us know what happened, we believe what we heard from you and will go on with the reactivation of the former user. I hope this situation will not repeat for the sake of our vast community of users (over 120.000), and I am happy to believe it was a human mistake (which we all make) and not an abusive business technique.”

Related research from GigaOM PRO (subscription required):

Report: The Consumer Video Chat Market, 2010-2015

SkypeKit: Skype’s Platform for CE-Based Communication