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Vonage includes Europe in unlimited calling plan

Internet telephony provider makes calling some European countries from the U.S. even cheaper.

Calling Europe just got cheaper for serious phone gabbers.

On Tuesday, Internet telephony provider Vonage announced that it has waived its international calling rates to landlines in France, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom for subscribers of its premium calling plans.

This means that people subscribing to the $24.99 per month Premium Unlimited Plan and the $49.99 per month Small Business Unlimited Plan will be able to call people in these European countries and talk as long as they like for a flat monthly rate, just like they do when they call people within the U.S. Previously, subscribers were billed per minute to locations within these countries.

Vonage, which uses a broadband connection and the Internet rather than the regular telephone network to carry calls, has gained popularity among consumers and small businesses as a low-cost alternative to traditional phone service.

The company, which recently filed for an initial public offering, is fighting perceptions that voice over Internet Protocol provider Skype's international presence could limit its growth.

Traditional phone companies, such as AT&T and Verizon Communications, have been offering their own local and long-distance flat-rate calling plans for the past couple of years. For example, Verizon Communications charges $40 a month for its unlimited plan, which includes calls within the continental U.S. and Puerto Rico.

But calling internationally is not included in these plans. Instead, customers can sign up for a separate international calling plan. One plan from Verizon offers callers flat-rate per-minute calls for a monthly fee of 95 cents with guaranteed rates ranging from 93 cents per minute to call the U.K. to $2.23 per minute to call China. For $50 a month, customers can make unlimited calls to one of the following countries: France, Germany, Italy, Japan, South Korea or the United Kingdom.

Many people have turned to Internet services such as Skype, now owned by eBay, to make calls anywhere in the world for free. The only caveat with Skype is that these calls must be made from one PC to another PC. The same is true for new voice services offered by America Online and Yahoo as part of their instant-messaging software. To make calls to or receive calls from a landline phone, users must pay a per-minute charge.

Rates vary depending on the country. For example, Skype offers a flat Skype-Out rate of 2.1 cents to some of the more popular countries, including Australia, Austria, parts of China, the U.K. and the U.S.