USSD Charge in Nigeria: Blame the NCC, Not the Telcos

USSD Charge in Nigeria: Blame the NCC, Not the Telcos

Since 2011 when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) introduced cashless policy, aimed at reducing the cash-based culture that Nigeria has been functioning on, there has been one development or the other contradicting it.

The most recent has been the introduction of charges on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) transactions. Some Telecommunication companies on Saturday 19th of September sent messages to their subscribers as notice of charges on USSD.

“Yhello, please note that from Oct 21, we will charge N4 per 20 seconds for USSD access to banking services. Thank you.” The message from MTN reads.

This means if you spend 5 minutes checking your account balance, you will be charged N60. It was a rule approved by the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC), without prior notice, and it is one among many.

Although the Ministry of Communication reacted quickly, a statement signed by Mrs. Uwa Suleiman, the spokesperson to the Honorable Minister of Communication, directed the NCC to discontinue the plan with immediate effect. It reads:

“The attention of the Federal Ministry of Communications has been drawn to the viral text message allegedly sent by the Mobile Network Operator MTN Nigeria and other Mobile Operators notifying subscribers of a four naira (N4:00) charge per 20 seconds on USSD access to banking services from the 21st of October 2019.

“The office of the Honorable Minister of Communication Dr. Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami FNCS, FBCS, FIIM is unaware of this development and has hereby directed the sector regulator, the Nigerian Communication Commission (NCC) ensures the operator suspends such plans until the Honorable Minister is fully and properly briefed.”

It is becoming a norm. The viral outrage that instigated the intervention of the Communication Ministry has been that these agencies in collaboration with corporations, in the exercise of their independence are obnoxiously imposing one extortive rule or the other.

And in the case of Telcos, it is happening when subscribers are facing a lot of hiccups in voice and data networks. A UK based price comparison network, cable, counted Nigeria, out of top 10 African countries. with data price concern. A situation the Minister of Communication found worrisome.

What is more is that over 174 million subscribers who are paying the high price are not getting the service they deserve. There are complaints of illegal deduction of data amidst the high cost.

It is against these backdrops that the NCC approved charges on USSD that was designed to encourage cashless policy and ease banking services. Although Hon. Pantimi, has ordered downward review of data prices, and improved quality of service, there is little hope it is going to solve the problem.

The bone of contention has been who is going to pay for the USSD services. The agreement that birthed the service seems not to favor telecom operators anymore, so they want to make subscribers the scapegoats with the support of NCC. That means as usual, the banks will have nothing to lose.

So the despair emanates from the perception that the supposed umpire (NCC), is part and parcel of every undoing of the telcos. And it wouldn’t take long before another exploitative rule is introduced. Many believed that the solution lies with the regulator, not service providers who only need to obey the right rules if they are made.

So to solve the problems of the telecommunication industry in Nigeria, the Nigerian Communication Commission needs to do better.

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