The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) announced that commercial banks in the country owe telcos over N17 billion in Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) fees.

This is following the regulator’s suspension of its Determination on USSD Pricing that it set last year.

Speaking at ATCON’s virtual forum on “Meeting the Interests of Government, Consumers and Telecoms Companies in the Era of Covid-19 and Post Covid-19 Pandemic for Digital Economy Development”, the NCC  Executive Vice Chairman Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta said that Nigeria's Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Isa Ibrahim Pantami, had already been briefed on this development, with a view to ensuring a quick settlement of the debt.

However, the NCC did not respond to a media enquiry about the time lines that the NCC wants the debt to be settled, and whether all parties were in agreement about the debt amount and settlement deadlines.

Who can charge end-user

The USSD channel evolved over time from a telco-exclusive channel used for only telco services such as balance inquiry and recharges to a channel for the deployment of a broad spectrum of services, including financial, insurance, agricultural, government services and more.

The NCC had previously determined that transactions should be between the MNOs and the entity to which the service is provided (i.e. Banks and Financial Institutions). “MNOs have no direct relationship to bank customers, and cannot, therefore, charge directly for usage of USSD channel,” the commission said.

When announcing the Determination last year, Minister Pamntami stated that he took the decision to suspend the commencement of end-user billing (where the consumers are charged directly from their airtime balance for use of USSD channels as opposed to corporate billing where the banks paid the MNOs for the use of USSD service) because he was “genuinely besieged with a barrage of complaints at the attempted commencement of end-user billing by service providers.”

Revised price determination

Danbatta noted that the NCC, in the interest of the consumers and other stakeholders, revised the Determination on Pricing that it published on the 23rd of July, 2019 by removing the Price Floor and the Cap. This will allow the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and the banks to negotiate rates that will be mutually beneficial to all parties concerned, he said.

The amendment was necessitated following a protracted dispute between MNOs and Financial Institutions on the applicable charges for USSD services and the method of billing, the NCC said.

The NCC noted that as a responsive and effective regulatory authority, it recognises that its policies are not static and may be modified from time to time as circumstances demand.

“The Commission has monthly engagements with operators as well as quarterly industry working group on Quality of Service and Short Codes, and is currently monitoring 2G Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), while the KPIs for 4G are being prepared,” Danbatta said.

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