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NCC Offers Solution to USSD Charges


The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) at the weekend, assured stakeholders in the telecoms and banking sectors of early resolution of the lingering impasse over the use unstructured supplementary service (USSD) between lenders and telecoms operators.

Its Executive Vice Chairman/CEO, Prof Garba Umar Dambatta who gave the assurance, said the matter would be treated expeditiously, using the model used to save 9mobile from the jaw of liquidators over unpaid loans.

The telcos had threatened to stop offering the links for lenders for USSD use in banking transaction, accusing the banks and the authorities of insincerity over the issue.

Dmabatta, in a text message, said: “Preparations are underway. It is going to be a joint CBN/NCC regulatory effort towards resolution of the problem. Recall similar and successful effort on 9mobile.”

The operators, acting under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), wondered why stakeholders such as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), NCC, Body of Bank CEOs and even Communications and Digital Economy Minister, Dr Ali Pantani, who issued a ‘directive’ to stop the telcos from charging for USSD service kept quiet over the issue.

Its Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, had faulted the argument of the CBN that USSD cost was ‘sunk’, wondering if the cost of building a house could be described as sunk.

He said the telcos invested huge cash to put an infrastructure in place and have been spending money to keep the base transceiver stations (BTS) running, in addition to other costs.

Adebayo said very soon, the operators will apply the relevant sections of the Nigerian Communications Act to stop providing links to the banks.

The operators, especially MTN, had stopped the implementation of the N4 charge per 20 seconds for every USSD access to banking services, following the public outcry and subsequent directive from Pantami.

The carriers insisted that stakeholders involved  were yet to meet to discuss way forward, “but the banks have continued to charge as much as N55 per transaction using the same telecoms operators platform”.

Adebayo, while sharing the success story of the industry in the last 20 years, said the industry will not offer USSD services free.

Adebayo stressed that the USSD cost was never a sunk cost as championed by the CBN, rather it is an infrastructure, which the operators have invested so much in the last one decade.

“I am saying it again that the USSD links will not be offered free of charge. The records are there, we are tracking how much the banks are charging and making on the USSD, when the time comes,and we agree on way forward, we will show them what they have been charging. For the telcos, it cost them so much to provide the service.

“What should have happened is that when we first raised this issue, we made public statement and expected that a stakeholder meeting should have been called to discuss the matter.

The CBN governor spoke, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy spoke, the NCC withdrew, and since then, nobody has said nothing! We expected that a meeting of minds, where all parties (telcos and the banks) would come and talk on the matter to a find a lasting solution, but nothing of such.

I am saying it again, we cannot bury this matter under the table and wish it goes away, it won’t go away. The fact is those links won’t be provided at no cost.

“When the time comes, we shall treat it as interconnect debt. We shall invoke the right of the provider of service under the Act of the NCC, so if the banks will continue to provide the service and they won’t pay, telcos will make a use case to the NCC for the proper disconnect.’’

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The fact is if it gets to that level, the economy will suffer. So, if the matter is not resolved adequately, the impact will be felt by all. Imagine, if the links are down, so many banking services will go down,” Adebayo said.

According to him, before the initial implementation, there was an understanding by the banks that telcos should also charge.

Speaking on the border closure by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Adebayo, said despite appeal to the authorities involved, the matter has not changed.

The ALTON chief said telephony services to those have been impacted negatively and those in the border areas are really feeling the impact.

“We appeal again to the Minister, NCS authority and the Federal Government to please intervene on the matter as fast as possible. The non-supply of diesel to base stations at those areas have crippled services in those areas,” he said.

According to him, no guarantee of services at the borderline and “that has serious implications for the country’s security. If nothing is done, the services providers may declare force majeure at those areas.’’

He lamented that some drivers conveying petroleum products to sites in the affected communities were arrested and are being tried for attempting to smuggle products.

He warned of the grave security implications of service disruption in the affected areas.