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VoIP backlash in Germany?

Vodafone Germany plans to disable Net phone calls from the likes of Skype and other VoIP operators in 2007.

The German unit of cell phone giant Vodafone plans to disable calls from the likes of Skype and other Net phone operators beginning July 2007.

Vodafone Germany spokesman Heiko Witzke said Wednesday that in the interim the company may reverse its policy, which came to light earlier in the week when it filed a tariff with German telephone regulators.

He wouldn't comment about why the company was taking the step, but said in an interview that "2007 is a long ways to go; anything may happen until then."

Vodafone's other 15 divisions serving nations in Europe and Asia have not enacted such a policy, according to a spokesman at Vodafone's U.K. headquarters.

The development is a sign that some cell phone operators are beginning to feel threatened by Internet telephony, just as soaring Net phone subscriber numbers start to significantly impact revenues of traditional landline operators.

So-called voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services are viewed as a threat to all forms of telephony because the software, usually available for free, lets people make free phones calls between Internet-connected devices or reach traditional cell or landline phones at drastically reduced prices.

Landline phone operators, especially in the United States, have already fought VoIP operators in a number of ways, including trying to siphon off their supply of telephone numbers and pushing for state and federal regulation for what is, for now, a lightly regulated industry.

Luxembourg-based Skype is one of the largest and best known of the new breed of VoIP operators. During a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, co-founder Niklas Zennstrom said he thought Vodafone Germany's decision was a defensive measure.

Cell phone "networks are not really the best for dealing with lots of traffic," Zennstrom said. "That's why cell operators are afraid when there are great applications."