By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA
The protracted dispute between Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) and Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) over the appropriate USSD pricing model for financial transactions degenerated at the weekend, with one of the network operators, MTN Nigeria, directing its customers to switch over to other electronic payment platforms.
It would be recalled that confusion broke out last Friday among the 77.34 millions MTN subscribers who were unable to make transfers and recharge their lines with airtime and data through banks.
The confusion lasted several hours until the financial institutions, with the exception of Zenith Bank, confirming that they had deliberately disconnected MTN from banking channels including Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and banking apps due to disagreement over earnings.
BH reliably gathered that the latest rift was caused by the decision of MTN to reduce the commission paid to banks from 3.5 percent to 2.5 percent.
The banks, it was learnt, kicked against the decision, threatening to block MTN from all their channels if the telecommunications firm fails to revert to the old commission.
However, MTN refused to buckle. In a statement signed by its MTN in a statement on Saturday by its Senior Manager, External Relations, Funso Aina, the firm advised its customers to immediately switch to other payment platforms like O’Pay, Flutterwave and others.
“It will interest you to note that for the benefit of our customers who have been greatly inconvenienced by the service suspension, we now have alternative channels of accessing MTN services electronically.
“Below is the list and links to access the various alternative platforms: MTN On Demand is on 904# and also via https://mtnondemand. flutterwave.com; Barter By Flutterwave (app); Jumia Pay (app); OPay (app); MTNXtratime airtimeloans (606#); Carbon (app); Kuda (app); BillsnPay (appandweb); myMTNWeb; Momoagent*223#.
“The Apps can be downloaded from the Playstore and the Appstore,” the statement added.
“We have reached an advance stage of resolving the issues, for the services to be restored to our citizens,” Pantami assured.
BH recalled the long drawn out battle between banks and telcos over who should pay for USSD had started in 2018, with telcos insisting that banks should pay for the charges which they put at N12 for one session and then remit it in bulk to them (telcos).
The banks refused the plan, telling telcos to charge customers directly. Borthered by the negative effects of the feud on financial operations, the NCC waded in by setting a price cap of N4.98 for each session.
The NCC intervention, however failed to resolve the dispute as the telcos sent out its notifications to their customers, saying they would be charging customers a flat rate of N4 for every USSD transaction that passed through their networks.
The NCC and CBN again intervened, pegging the rate at N4.98 and ordering banks to pay telcos the charged fees. The refusal of the banks to agree to the terms sparked a two year fight between them. The fight recently reached a turning point when the Association of Licensed Telecommunications of Nigeria (ALTON) threatened to shut down USSD platforms in Nigeria from Monday, March22, 2021.
However, the dispute was supposedly laid to rest on March 16 after a truce brokered by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
With the march 16 2021 truce, bank customers making transfers through the USSD are expected to pay a flat rate of N6.98 fee per transaction, which is relatively cheaper than what telcos had planned to charge in 2019.
“This (rate) replaces the current per session billing structure, ensuring a much cheaper average cost for customers to enhance financial inclusion. This approach is transparent and will ensure the amount remains the same, regardless of the number of sessions per transaction,” the NCC and the CBN had stated in a joint statement immediately after the March 16 meeting with stakeholders.
But the announcement which came as a relief to millions of Nigerians who praised the intervention and predicted that it will ensure a much cheaper average cost to enhance financial inclusion has turned into yet another disappointment with the latest rift between the banks and telcos.
Meanwhile, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, has assured all stakeholders that the dispute would be resolved amicably.