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Orange pulls support for Locust – again

'Betrayed' say members

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Members of the Locust text message community are on the warpath after learning that Orange is to withdraw its support for the service from the end of March.

They claim they've been betrayed by Orange even though the mobile phone company had previously stepped in at the eleventh hour to save the world's oldest text message community from going under.

They also believe that Orange's motive was to glean as much data about text communities before setting up its own "Orange Chat" service.

Now, the users are prepared to fight again and have dusted off an old campaign site in a bid to save Locust.

In 2001 Orange announced it was canning its Talk 60 Text 1500 tariff, which enabled a company to send large numbers of text messages for just £60 a month.

Since Locust's business model is based on being able to send low-cost SMS, news that members would have to pay for every text they received put Locust's future in jeopardy.

However, following pressure from members and Locust's founder Jon Anderson, Orange decided to continue supporting the service with the help of the mobile phone company's R&D unit, OrangeImagineering.

As part of the deal cut in December 2001, OrangeImagineering agreed to support Locust while working on joint research in online mobile communities.

As far as Locust's members were concerned, this deal had secured the long-term future of Locust.

But on Wednesday, they learned that OrangeImagineering was pulling its support for Locust from the end of March.

A statement from founder Jon Anderson read: "As of the 31st March, Locust will be unable to send SMS through the OrangeImagineering link. From that point onwards, the messages will need to come through an alternative route or be paid for individually.

"Locust currently offers compelling text message services at a low flat rate due to the low SMS rates we have utilised for the last six and a half years. An increase in the overheads we pay for SMS will mean that, either we have to increase the cost of the service to reflect the overheads, or we have to look at alternative ways of getting the messages to you," it said.

One angry Locust member told The Register: "OrangeImagineering has withdrawn that support, in what seems to have been a Vampire-like attack; they have extracted all of the information and experience they needed from Locust and its community, and is now throwing them by the wayside.

"Needless to say we feel betrayed and used by Orange and its false promises of a secure future.

"It seems that their aim was to silence us, extract what they could, then hope that we would die quietly."

A spokesman for Orange strongly denied that it had only supported Locust to obtain enough expertise to set up a rival service.

He said he hoped that the mobile phone company's decision to pull its support would not lead to the closure of Locust but insisted that when OrangeImagineering stepped in to support Locust, it do so on the understanding that it was only for a year.

Locust was established in 1996 as an easy way to pick up email from anywhere in the world by using a mobile phone. It quickly expanded to include traffic and weather reports, lottery results, mailing lists and chat rooms. ®

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