By Emmanuel Elebeke
This may not be the best of times for subscribers of MTN in the last 24 hours, following the termination of Unstructured Supplementary Services Data (USSD) services by the banks.
The service disruption has since then put the subscribers out of services, leading to widespread outcry and complaints across the country.
USSD is a second-generation (2G) technology of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) protocol used to send text messages.
Some industry watchers have attributed the dispute to the N42billion USSD debt owed to Mobile Network Operators by the financial service providers.
However, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Pantami has stepped into the matter with a view to addressing the brewing crisis between the banks and the telecom service operator.
Recall that the telecom operators under the umbrella of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), had on March 12, 2021, threatened to stop USSD services to the FSPs but had to shelve the plan following a quick intervention of the Minister.
The intervention was followed by an updated pricing regime per transactions in Nigeria issued by the industry regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
The new pricing regime restricts MNOs from charging the end-user for the services and mandates the banking sector to enter into negotiations to settle outstanding obligations and agree on individual pricing mechanisms to be applied going forwards.
Though, the Mobile Network Operators (MNO’s) during this period have continued to provide access to USSD infrastructure and its members have continued to pay all Bank charges and fees to access the Banking industries assets and customers, despite the fact that obligations due from banks to telecoms companies for USSD services has reached over Forty-Two Billion (N42B) Naira.
“ALTON members have continued to provide these services because our primary concern is that the millions of Nigerian customers who access financial services through our USSD infrastructure every day should be able to continue conducting their transactions.
“This was given greater importance when customers’ became further reliant on these services due to COVID movement restrictions. Unfortunately, as it has been impossible to agree on a structure for these payments with the banks that do not involve the end-user being asked to pay, the government has been forced to intervene to ensure that a sustainable cost-sharing solution is agreed, that does not disadvantage the consumer in the long-term.
“We deeply regret that we have reached a point where the withdrawal of these services has become unavoidable, however, we remain committed to working closely with the relevant Ministries and regulators to resolve this issue as quickly as possible.
“To minimise the disruption to customers, and with the concurrence of the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy and the Nigerian Communications Commission, on the huge debt to the Network operators; Mobile Network Operators will disconnect debtor Financial Service Providers (FSPs) from USSD services until the huge debt is paid.
“To resolve the lingering dispute and ensure uninterrupted services to customers on USSD channel, the Pantami on March 15, 2021, chaired a meeting of key stakeholders to discuss an amicable resolution in the interest of the general public.
“Represented at the meeting were the various MNOs; ALTON, Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), DMBs (represented by the Chairman, Body of Bank CEOs) and the sector regulators – Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).
“Afterwards, a joint statement was issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Acting Director, Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanisobi; and the Director, Public Affairs, Nigerian Communications Commission, Ikechukwu Adinde.
“In that statement, parties agreed that “Effective March 16, 2021, USSD services for financial transactions conducted at DMBs and all CBN – licensed institutions will be charged at a flat fee of N6.98k per transaction, among other things,” said ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo.
However, MTN subscribers said they were taken aback when they couldn’t access USSD services since Friday.
To update the public on the ongoing efforts to resolve the issue, the Minister through his verified Twitter handle: @DrIsaPantami, said, “On the fallout between @MTNNG and some banks on USSD services today, I engaged with both regulators, the Governor of @cenbank and EVC @NgComCommission. We have reached an advanced stage of resolving the issues, for the services to be restored to our citizens. Many thanks!”