USSD channels blocked as banks, Telcos tangle
The crisis between telecoms operators and the commercial banks over the use of the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) platforms deepened yesterday as customers couldn’t carry out major transactions on the platform.
It was gathered that some commercial banks cut off their USSD, airtime purchase and other online services from telcos, especially MTN network, over both parties inability to agree on the amount to be charged.
Consequently, MTN in a text message sent to its over 75 million users yesterday said its USSD platform was not available.The text read: “Dear Customer, our bank recharge channels are currently unavailable. Kindly recharge using physical cards. We apologise for the inconvenience. Thank you.”
An official of MTN confirmed to The Guardian that it was the banks that cut off the platform, which subsequently put the users into confusion.
The official said the banks did not send a formal communication to either customers or MTN before taking the action. “USSD has not been cut off by MTN, but rather the banks,” the official stressed.
According to the official, the implication of this is that the banks were denying customers from accessing their money to make legitimate purchases and transactions as it were.
The crisis was borne out of the failure of the banks to pay the telcos the N42 billion they owed since the last eight months.
It was gathered the banks were willing to cut off services to customers in order to protect their profits.
The official said the banks were shying away from paying the ₦42 billion debt it owed the telcos. “The plan is to surreptitiously factor it into a new price regime so that customers will unknowingly help them pay what they had already billed them. Of course, the telcos refused, which is why they are fighting us now.”
An industry source further told The Guardian that the banks had tried to remove the cost of using USSD, but were willing to cut off subscribers to protect their own fees earned through the channel.
“This only has to do with preservation of bank profits, which are already substantial and growing despite the wider economic conditions,” he said.
Recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) had in a recent communique issued at the end of a meeting to resolve the disagreement on USSD fee between the banks and telcos agreed that with effect from March 16, 2021, USSD services for financial transactions conducted at banks and all CBN-licensed institutions would be a flat rate of N6.98k per transaction. This is supposed to replace the previous per session billing structure, ensuring a much cheaper average cost for customers to ensure financial inclusion.
“To promote transparency, the new USSD charges will be collected on behalf of MNOs directly from customers’ bank accounts. “Banks shall not impose additional charges on customers for the use of USSD channel.
“A settlement plan for outstanding payments incurred for USSD services previously rendered by the MNOs is being worked out by all parties in a bid to ensure that the matter is fully resolved,” the communiqué explained.
Reacting to the development, the Chairman of the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), Gbenga Adebayo, said the issue was a commercial dispute between the banks and the telcos.