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USSD issue deserves stakeholders’ meeting not unilateral directive—ALTON

The umbrella body for all telecom firms including main network operators (MNOs), the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), has blamed the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isah Pantami, for not convening a broad stakeholders meeting on the issue of USSD link charge before taking a rather faulty decision.

Recall that the Minister had issued a stop order as soon as subscribers of MTN Nigeria began to receive sms on the introduction of the N4 charge for the USSD 20 seconds link service.

However, in his argument at a press conference to announce the association’s planned 20th anniversary celebration in Lagos, chairman of the group, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo described the Minister’s action as hasty.

He said Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) services to financial institutions without commensurate financial payment for the link is not acceptable because resources are spent by networks to drive the link alive.

ALTON Adebayo
Chairman of ALTON, Engr. Gbenga Adebayo

While insisting that MNOs would not offer the service free of charge to banks,  he argued that “The USSD is a service we are providing for the banks and there is a cost incurred by telecom operators for providing those services.

“The bank has given an erroneous impression to the public that it is a sunk cost and it is not because for the service to be allowed, the cell site must be powered, there must be transmission link available and our systems must interconnect with the systems of the banks. It is a recurring cost other than the initial capital.”

He averred that “It is morally wrong for banks to keep charging its subscribers for USSD transactions without paying the amount due to network operators for facilitating the payments.

Continuing, he stressed that “If they think we should not charge, they also should not charge our subscribers. A time will come when we will have to invoke our rights under the Communications Act, which allows us to seek a request to disconnect the link.”

Adebayo revealed that the access charge for the USSD was arrived at after a price determination analysis conducted by the NCC and should not be altered by a ministerial directive, rather issues surrounding the industry differences should be discussed at a stakeholders meeting that should be convened by the Minister.