Executive Vice Chairman, NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Damabatta

BY EMEKA EJERE

Commercial banks and mobile network operators have commenced talks on how the N17bn accumulated debt for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) access will be paid.

It was learnt that the two parties would reach an agreement on modalities for payment soon.

The PUNCH quoted the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunication Operators of Nigeria, Gbenga Adebayo, as saying “Discussions are ongoing and we are hoping that this will result in settlement. But certainly, the banks are indebted to telcos.”

The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta, who spoke at a virtual forum recently had put the USSD debt banks owe telcos at N17bn.

The debt accumulated following the regulator’s suspension of its Determination on USSD pricing last year.

Danbatta stated that in order to protect the interests of consumers and support a robust telecommunications sector, the commission revised the determination on the USSD.

According to him, the revised USSD pricing will allow mobile network operators and financial institutions negotiate mutually beneficial rates.

Danbatta said the commission amended the determination earlier issued in July 2019 by removing the price floor and the cap.

According to him, each USSD session is 20 seconds and costs N1.63 per session on the MNO network.

He said the cost should form the basis of negotiations between MNOs and other related service providers using USSD channels.

The amendment was carried out after a dispute between MNOs and financial institutions on the applicable charges for USSD services and the method of billing.

The NCC, in the amended determination which took effect on August 1, 2020, said that if the MNOs and financial service providers were unable to agree on rates, it would intervene and the commission’s decision would be final and binding.

The telecoms regulators said the refusal to pay for services provided or to negotiate in good faith would lead to discontinuation of provision of the service, the possible withdrawal of the USSD short code and/or imposition of regulatory sanctions.

The amended USSD pricing determination read in part, “MNOs must not charge the consumers directly for the use of USSD channel for financial services in the form of end-user-billing. The transaction should be between the MNOs and the entity to which the service is provided.

“All billings by MNOs for financial service using USSD code assigned to FSPs must thereby be implemented via the Corporate Billing model.”

It added that payments for transactions carried out prior to the effective date of this determination should be made in accordance with the previous rates.