USSD: Fed Govt ‘directs’ banks to pay telcos

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The Federal Government yesterday directed banks to see themselves as corporate customers of Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and pay them the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD).

Pursuant to this, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), therefore, said it has revised its Determination on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) pricing published on the July 23, 2019.

Its Director, Public Affairs, Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, said the amendment was necessitated following a protracted dispute between MNOs and financial institutions on the applicable charges for USSD services and the method of billing, adding that as a responsive and effective regulatory authority, it recognised that its policies are not static and may be modified from time to time as circumstances demanded.

The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Ali Pantami, who gave the directive for the review of the USSD pricing following a presentation made by the Commission on the billing structure, determination of USSD pricing, current status and the way forward.

The minister said 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 besieged with a barrage of complaints at the attempted commencement of end-user billing by the telcos.

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

The USSD channel has evolved over time from a telco-exclusive channel used for only services such as balance inquiry and recharges to a channel for the 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 the Covid-19 pandemic that has witnessed a rise in reliance on digital services.

The Executive Vice Chairman of the NCC, Prof. Garba Danbatta, in the interest of the consumers and other stakeholders, has revised the determination previously issued by removing the Price Floor and the Cap to allow the Mobile Network Operators and the banks negotiate rates that will be mutually beneficial to all parties concerned.

The NCC also determined that Mobile Network Operators must not charge the consumers directly for the use of USSD channels for financial services in the form of end-user-billing.

The transaction should be between the MNOs and the entity to which the service is provided ( that is banks and financial institutions).

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