By Favour Unukaso
TELECOMMUNICATIONS operators are set to disconnect Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) from the use of the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) over the protracted debt, which has amounted to N120 billion.
Under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the services providers said the Nigerian Public that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has granted an approval for “our members – Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) – to disconnect Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) if they fail to pay the debt owed to Operators for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services which amounts to over N120 billion.”
The implication of this development is that customers, which run into millions that make use of the USSD would either experience partial service or zero service anytime soon.
In a statement jointly signed by the Chairman and Head of Operations of ALTON, Gbenga Adebayo and Gbolahan Awonuga respectively and made available to journalists, Friday, the telecoms operators said the approval was granted because despite multiparty stakeholder efforts to resolve the situation and prevent any impact on services, led by the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami and including the NCC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, along with MNOs and DMBs, “the DMBs have continued to incur greater and greater debt, without making the commensurate payments. Every time some progress is made, the DMBs come up with reasons to take stakeholders several steps back, in this matter.”
ALTON said members of the public will recall that MNOs and DMBs have had protracted disagreements concerning the appropriate USSD pricing model for financial transactions, transparency of charges, mode of collection and liability for payment of the outstanding and continuous service fees due to the MNOs (which currently stands at over N120 Billion).
According to the telecoms body, due to the inability of MNOs and DMBs to reach an agreement on the issues, MNOs in 2021 sought to disconnect DMBs due to the unpaid debts which stood at N42 Billion as of that time.
“However, the Minister of Communication and Digital Economy, Prof. Isa Pantami, intervened and asked the MNOs not to disconnect DMBs as the action will negatively impact on the Digital and Financial Inclusion policy of the Federal Government. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and Deposit Money Banks (DMB) represented by the Chairman, Body of Bank CEOs subsequently met on March 15, 2021 to discuss indebtedness of DMBs to MNOs for USSD services. Further to the meeting, CBN and NCC issued a joint press statement on the agreement reached by all stakeholders (link: https://ncc.gov.ng/media-centre/news-headlines/969-joint-statement-by-central-bank-of-nigeria-nigerian-communications-commission-on-pricing-of-unstructured-supplementary-service-data-ussd-services)
“The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and the NCC have made several efforts to get the banks to show good faith and sign an agreement, in the national interest, based on the resolutions reached at that meeting. Unfortunately, the patriotic intervention of the minister and the NCC have been taken for granted by the DMBs, as two years after, the banks have failed to sign a final agreement.
“It is pertinent to note that the contract between MNOs and DMBs on the use of USSDs for banking transactions is strictly commercial and MNOs are at liberty to withdraw the services if it is established that the transaction is unprofitable to them. MNOs have invested billions of naira in expanding their systems to accommodate the USSD needs of DMBs over the years. This has resulted in more Nigerians having access to banking services in addition to enabling banks to trim down costs by requiring less branches to service their growing customers. Unfortunately, MNOs are not getting paid for their services and the debt that stood at N42 Billion in 2021 has now risen to over N120 Billion.”
ALTON said it is obvious that the level of debt is unsustainable given the time/value huge cost of the continuous upgrade and operation of the systems and infrastructure dedicated to supporting USSD transactions of DMBs.
According to the body, “In view of the foregoing, unless DBMs meet their debt obligations, MNOs will disconnect all banks indebted to them for USSD services rendered.”