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Texting too vital for portals to lose

Fears that web portals might stop offering free text messaging from their sites may be unfounded.

After mobile phone companies decided in February to charge each other on a per-message basis, rather than buying in bulk, it was feared portals giving free text messaging would have to stop.

It looked yesterday as if Genie would bin the service after a broadcast SMS was sent out to users of its U.Genie website, saying "U.Genie will cease to operate on 18/05/01. Please visit www.u.genie.co.uk for more information on how it could affect you."

But free texting will continue. "It is only U.Genie [our old site] that will not be updated," explained a Genie spokesperson. "Text messaging will continue [to be] free on Genie.co.uk."

Genie announced yesterday that it had racked up more than four million registered users and reached over seven countries, making it Europe's biggest internet portal. It's also talking to men's magazine FHM. It appears the company, backed by BT Cellnet, has enough money to ensure users will not suffer the increased costs of texting.

Service provider Lycos has also maintained its free SMS service, despite fears that extra costs would mean it had to charge customers.

"Free text messaging is an important service that we will keep for as long as possible," said a spokesperson at Lycos. So free texting could still bite the dust.

Since February mobile phone operators have been charging rivals 3p for every text message they pass to that network.

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