Telcos give banks ultimatum on USSD debt as presidency steps in

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With the lingering crises between the telecommunications and deposit money banks now getting more intense, the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria said its members have been asked to give individual debtor banks an ultimatum.

The ultimatum, it was learnt, would be at the preference of the affected mobile network operator.

ALTON is the umbrella body for telecommunications operators in the country.

Its Head of Operations, Gbolahan Awonuga, said on Wednesday that individual telecoms operators have been asked to write the affected DMBs and give them an ultimatum to make payment.

“If the DMBs fail to honour this ultimatum, the disconnection begins in earnest,” he said.

According to him, the operators, through the Nigerian Communications Commission with the backing of the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, have approved disconnection since May 12, “but having weighed the implication that may arise from the disconnection, they exercised restraints.”

“But there is a limit to that; the final decision would be taken if the banks fail to do the needful. So many things were considered, especially the country’s financial inclusion drive,” he said.

Confirming the development, an official of one of the affected MNOs said the operators are yet to disconnect because of the grave impact disconnection will have on the country.

He, however, said there is high-level consultation going on, even at the presidency.

“The banks are just not considerate, they are not conscientious at all. They want to play on emotion because so many people are using the USSD, so it will be difficult to disconnect. But that may not work in the long-run because telcos have invested so much and they must recoup their investment.

“The high point of the matter is that serious lobbying is currently going on in the background. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has waded in. The Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy (NCC), and I can also say the Presidency.”

Already, the CBN Acting Director of Corporate Communication, Abdulmumin Isa, had disclosed that the apex bank would intervene in the crisis.

“The CBN is very much aware of the protracted dispute between the banks and telcos and has been engaging all stakeholders to ensure an amicable resolution,” he said.

According to him, the direct intervention of the CBN in March 2021 has resulted in per session billing of N6.98 (including settling any outstanding fees) between the banks and telcos.

He added that the issue between banks and telecoms operators was due to a technical crisis, which has led to high debt.

Meanwhile, the telecoms operators have begun a regime of hamonised shortcodes in the country.

The NCC set a deadline of May 17 (yesterday) for all mobile networks to fully migrate from hitherto diverse shortcodes to the harmonised codes.

Harmonisisation of short codes is aimed at achieving uniformity in common short codes across networks.

This means that the code for checking airtime balance is the same across all mobile networks, irrespective of the network a consumer uses.

With the new codes, the telecoms consumers using the over 226 million active mobile lines in the country, would be able to use the same codes to access services across the networks.

Consequently, under the new harmonised short codes regime, 13 common short codes have been approved by the Commission.

They include the following codes: 300 to be used as the harmonised code for call centre/help desk on all mobile networks, 301 for voice mail deposit and 302 for voice mail retrieval.

Others are 303 for borrowing services, 305 for stop service, 310 for check balance, and 311 for credit recharge.

Also, the common code for data plans across networks is now 312 while 321 is for shared services.

Data plan balance while going with 323 just as 996 is assigned to verification of subscriber identity module.