Prof. Umar Danbatta, Executive Vice-Chairman/CEO, NCC

NCC revises USSD pricing to protect consumers

*Mobile Network Operators have no direct relationship with bank customers, cannot charge directly for use of USSD channel ─NCC Director of Public Affairs

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

In furtherance of its mandate to protect consumers’ interest and support a robust telecom ecosystem in the country, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) says it has revised its determination on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) pricing.

The Commission Wednesday, August 5 stated that the pricing, earlier published July 23, 2019, was in continuance of its mandate to protect the interests of consumers and support a robust telecommunications sector.

According to NCC, USSD is a service to banks and not to the telecommunication consumers.

Dr. Ikechukwu Adinde, Director of Public Affairs at NCC, in a statement disclosed that the amendment was occasioned by a protracted dispute between Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and Financial Institutions on the applicable charges for USSD services and the method of billing.

Adinde said: “As a responsive and effective regulatory authority, we recognise that our policies are not static and may be modified from time to time as circumstances demand.

“This is coming on the heels of a recent directive by the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr. Isa Pantami, regarding a review of the USSD pricing by all parties involved.

“It followed a presentation made by the Commission on the billing structure, determination of USSD pricing, current status and the way forward,’’ he said in a statement.

The NCC Director of Public Affairs said the decision was taken to suspend the commencement of end-user billing, where consumers were being 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.

He said the Minister for Communications and Digital Technology was “genuinely besieged with a barrage of complaints at the attempted commencement of end-user billing by service providers.”

“As such, banks should see themselves as corporate customers of telecommunication operators with a duty to pay for using their 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,” he said.

Adinde, however, said USSD channel had evolved over time from exclusive channel used for only telecommunication services such as balance inquiry and recharges to a channel for the deployment of a broad spectrum of services.

The NCC Director added these include financial, insurance, agricultural, government services, and more.

HE said: “The use of USSD channel has become a critical resource in the economy, more so in this era of the COVID-19 pandemic that has witnessed a rise in reliance on digital services.

“The NCC also determined that MNOS 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 which are Banks and Financial Institutions.’’

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