Telecommunications operators to disconnect banks over USSD

Telecommunications operators in the country said they may be forced to disconnect the links that allow bank customers perform financial transactions on their phones.

This came as the operators insisted the banks must pay for the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD), which rides on telecoms infrastructure.

USSD is a Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication technology that is used to send text between a mobile phone and an application programme in the network.

It is currently the best available communications technology to deliver mobile financial services to low-income customers.

The operators had recently announced plans to start charging mobile users for every session of USSD, aside charges by banks.

The announcement had sparked outrage, prompting the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, to order its suspension.

However, speaking through the Chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, at a press briefing in Lagos yesterday, the telcos said the issue has gone beyond ministerial directive as they have been bearing huge costs for the links that allow USSD transactions, which banks are profiting from.

While noting that the telcos are already calculating the cost and would soon pass it to the banks, Adebayo said failure of the banks to pay would lead to disconnection of all the links.

“We cannot continue to bear the costs while banks get the service free and charge customers for it. USSD service comes at a cost to the operators, it is not a sunk cost as they are insinuating; it is a recurring cost.

“This is no longer a matter of ministerial directive, we are calculating the costs and very soon, we will come out with what we have incurred and present it to the banks, if they say they are not going to pay, we will also have to withdraw our services and disconnect the links.

“This means that Nigerians will no longer be able to carry out financial transactions on their phones,” he said.

Adebayo added that the USSD debt, which is now accumulating, would be treated as interconnect debt and the banks would have to pay for it fully or be disconnected.

The ALTON Chairman said the telcos have unanimously agreed on this decision as a last resort as the regulators have failed to address the issues on ground.

According to him, both the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as well as the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy have shunned moves by the telcos to have a negotiation.

While the CBN and the minister had condemned earlier moves by the telcos to start charging bank customers for USSD to recover their costs, the operators, after suspending plan, had urged the regulators to convene a meeting for negotiation to resolve the issue.

However, Adebayo said neither the minister nor NCC, nor the CBN has taken any step since October.

He expressed worry that the telecoms regulator, NCC, whose regulation spells out the USSD charges, which the operators were trying to implement as a standard, has remained silent over the issue.

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