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NCC orders operators to charge banks for USSD services

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The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has directed all mobile network operators (MNOs) to charge banks directly for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services.
 
Invariably, the N4 charge, which caused uproar last October between MNOs and the financial institutions where telecommunications firms wanted to be charging N4 per second for every USSD transaction, will now be borne by the banks.
 
The new development, according to the NCC, is in furtherance of its mandate to protect consumers and support a robust sector.
 
In a statement by its Director, Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, the commission said it had revised its “Determination of the USSD pricing” published on July 23, 2019.
   


The review, it noted, followed a protracted dispute between the MNOs and the financial institutions on the applicable charge for USSD services and the method of billing.
 
NCC said as a responsive and effective regulatory authority, it recognises that policies are subject to change as occasion demands.
 
This is coming on the heels of a recent directive by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, regarding a review of the USSD pricing regime by all parties, following a presentation by the commission on the billing structure, determination of USSD fee, current status and the way forward.
   
Speaking during the meeting, the minister 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.”

“USSD is a service to banks and not telecoms consumers, and as such, banks should see themselves as corporate customers of telecoms operators with a duty to pay for using the telecoms networks and infrastructure, including USSD channels extended to them for service delivery to their customers.”
 
According to him, “Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have no direct relationship with bank customers, and cannot therefore charge directly for usage of USSD channel,” he explained.

Recall that the USSD channel has evolved over time from a telcoms-exclusive medium for balance inquiry and recharges to one for deployment of a broad spectrum of services, including financial, insurance, agricultural, government services and more.
 
The use of USSD channel has become a critical resource in the economy even more so in this era of COVID-19 that has witnessed a rise on reliance on digital services.

Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Umar Garba Danbatta, said the decision was in the interest of all.


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