The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has granted an approval to the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) 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 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, Professor Isa Pantami and including the Nigerian Communications Commission, 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.
It will recalled 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) .
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 at 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 15 March 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.
A statement signed by the Chairman of ALTON Mr Gbenga Adebayo notes 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.
It also states that 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.
In view of the foregoing, unless DBMs meet their debt obligations, MNOs will disconnect all banks indebted to them for USSD services rendered.