Comundo, an Internet service provider operated by Lycos Europe, announced yesterday it is to start offering a service enabling its registered users to place long-distance telephone calls over the Internet from their PC.

Comundo offers the service through a partnership with Access Power, a company based in Florida offering Internet telephony technology and services.

Access Power has agreed to let Comundo offer a co-branded version of its own Net.Caller telephony service, Comundo said in a statement.

The service is available now to Comundo's more than 1.2 million registered subscribers in the U.K, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and will allow them to make long-distance calls from their PC to any conventional telephone.

Calls can be made to any of 15 European countries, as well as to the U.S. and Canada.

IP telephony can allow users to avoid costly long-distance fees by making calls over the Internet, and has been viewed by some as a threat to traditional long-distance carriers.

Critics, however, point to shortcomings of the service, such as quality-of-service issues and the fact that the Internet isn't as reliable yet as the public telephone networks.

To use the service customers must download the necessary Net.Caller software to their PC. Comundo said it will offer the first 30 minutes of usage each month for free, with additional minutes available at a flat monthly rate.

For around £13 per month, the European Plus plan allows calls to be made to regular phones in 15 European countries as well as the U.S. and Canada.