Interconnect quagmire divides stakeholders
Stakeholders in the telecommunications space have disagreed over the best way to address the lingering interconnection problems arising from indebtedness in the sector.
This is coming against the backdrop of limited interconnection MTN Nigeria has placed on Glo subscribers terminating calls to its network.
This arises as a result of interconnect debt MTN claimed Glo is owing her which amounts to N7 billion.
Ike Nnamani, group managing director, Medallion Communications which is operates interconnect clearing network, said that Association Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) has presented to Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) a detailed report on implementation of an interconnect settlement scheme which will address the persistent issue of disconnection of operators trunk circuit as a result of interconnect debt.
“Although NCC said it is reviewing the proposal, in the face of issues like the one between MTN and Glo it is Glo subscribers that are losing and we run the risk of changing the balance in the telecommunications sector in a negative way, it can also fuel anti-competitive measure to frustrate smaller operators in the market.
“I know that its takes NCC time to grant approval for any operator to disconnect the other, but there is nothing on ground to prevent interconnection debts from pilling up,” he noted.
He cited example of Nigeria Inter Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) established by the Central Bank of Nigeria to reconcile inter- bank transactions which has been working.
However, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo, chairman, Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) disagreeing with establishment of interconnect settlement scheme said that implementing such will add another bottleneck to the issue of indebtedness.
He explained that why it is working in the banking sector is because the reconciliation does not involve movement of cash from one bank owing to the other, but exchange of legal tender instrument.
“The issues we have in telecom sector are commercial dispute arising from commercial transactions, I advise all parties to return to negotiation table and agree on a settlement plan.
I understand some are disputing the invoice given to them, I urge such operator to pay the amount that are not in dispute and negotiate the different.
“What we have today is live network where traffic is exchange on daily basis on calls, disrupting this through disconnection or limiting trunk circuit will not do the industry any good.
“I will not advocate for disconnection or limiting trunk circuit but for all the parties to honour their obligation as at when due. It won’t be fair to say ‘why are you disconnecting me? When you know you owe the other party,” he added.
Nnamani also decried the situation where operators have refused to make use of interconnect clearing houses as mandated by NCC.
“When indebtedness among operators rose to an alarming level some years back, NCC licensed interconnect clearing houses to ensure transparency in the billing process and mandated every operator to rout at least 10 percent of their traffic through the clearing platform, but, today none of the operators are anywhere close to 10 percent.
“Some are doing five percent while some are less than that, this means that more than 90 percent of traffic in the industry is exchanged directly among them which gave rise to high indebtedness as we witness today,” he said.
He explained that exchanging traffic directly among operators does not guarantee transparent billing as well gives rise to anti competition practices as we see it today.
It would be recalled that in December last year erring Internet Service Providers (ISP) and Mobile operators were disconnected on the approval of NCC to curb mounting interconnectivity debt which has become a source of worry for the industry.
According to the announcement by NCC, MTN and Airtel brought the matter against Breeze Micro Ltd (Breeze); Exchange Telecommunications Limited (Exchange); and Solid Interconnectivity Services Ltd (Solid) for non settlement of interconnectivity charges.
Hence, approval has been granted for the disconnection of Medallion Communications Limited (Medallion) by MTN. Similarly, same approval was granted to Airtel to disconnect Niconnx Communications Limited (Niconnx) all as a result of non-settlement of interconnect charges.
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