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Cingular, SBC lift limits on dialing

Cingular is offering New York customers an all-you-can-eat plan for a flat rate. Meanwhile, SBC says its unlimited dialing plan for small businesses is the first of its kind.

Cingular Wireless and SBC Communications are offering new calling plans that let customers place unlimited domestic calls anytime for a flat rate.

Cell phone service provider Cingular this week introduced a plan for New York customers that offers unlimited calling at anytime for a low price of $50 a month. The new plan is part of a promotion that expires in July. Customers also must sign up for two years of service.

On Friday, SBC Communications, parent company of Cingular, announced "Business Unlimited," which it says is the first unlimited dialing plan for small businesses. The plan costs $59 a month.

SBC and most of its competitors already offer residential customers unlimited dialing. But most offer the same plans only to larger businesses, not businesses with five or less phone lines.

"This is a big deal in California especially, where businesses have traditionally paid for local service," Wes Warnock, an SBC spokesman, said in an e-mail.

The new plans, announced this week, are yet another sign that telephone companies, under intense competitive pressures, are trying to get ahead by moving away from the decades-old practice of charging extra for calls during the daytime or peak use hours.

"Flat rate is the shape of things to come," said Joe Laszlo, a telephone market analyst at Jupiter Research .

Cingular's unlimited dialing plan, meant to breach the ultra-competitive New York market, comes a few months after AT&T Wireless sold unlimited dialing for anytime of day for $100 a month. It, too, was a limited time promotion.

Two smaller U.S. wireless carriers, Leap Wireless International and Alltel, already offer similar all-you-can eat dialing in their service areas.