Telecoms operators insist on USSD charges

Telecommunications operators are insisting on implementing charges for the unstructured supplementary service data (USSD).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 the Minister of Communications and Digital Banking, Dr. Isa Pantami.

But the operators, under the aegis of Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), insisted that stakeholders involved in the whole saga, including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Body of Banks CEOs, Minister Pantami, and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), are yet to meet to discuss a way forward, In an interaction with journalists in Lagos, yesterday, they noted that “banks have continued to charge as much as N55 per transaction using the same telecoms operators platform.”

The Chairman of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo, while sharing the success story of the industry in the last 20 years, insisted that the industry will not offer USSD services free.Adebayo argued that the USSD cost was never a sunk cost as championed by the CBN, rather it is an infrastructure, which operators had 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 proper disconnect. 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.”

Also commenting, Chairman, Technical Committee, ALTON, Aremu Olajide, said before prices are fixed in the telecoms sector, “There is always a cost based price determination that is carried out, which the NCC actually did. So, it wasn’t as if we just fix prices arbitrarily. Unlike the banks, we don’t know how the banks arrive at the N50/transaction cost. It is not transparent at all. So, the industry must come together to resolve this matter amicably.”

Speaking on the border closure by the Nigerian Customs Service, Adebayo, again appealed to the authorities to intervene as soon as possible, as the non-supply of diesel to base stations at those areas has crippled services in those areas.According to him, limited services at the border line have “serious implications for the country’s security. If nothing is done, the services providers may declare force majeure at those areas.”

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