NCC, CBN have resolved N120bn USSD debt owed telcos – Danbatta

The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) Prof. Umar Danbatta, on Thursday disclosed that the fuss generated by the N120 billion debt owed by banks for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) provided by telecom operators had been amicably resolved.

The NCC boss said that the banks, following the intervention of the Acting Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Folashodun Shonubi, had agreed to clear the accumulated debt and continue to pay for subsequent USSD service under the corporate billing term.

Danbatta, who made these clarifications at the Telecom Executives and Regulators Forum (TERF) held in Lagos, explained that the consensual resolution of the banks and the telcos was achieved based on the realization by the parties that financial inclusion cannot be achieved without telecom services.

While commending the acting apex bank governor for his intervention, the telecom sector regulator pointed out that without the USSD service, there would be no digital financial inclusion and the penetration of the inclusion would be nowhere near where it is now in the country.

The EVC said: “Digital financial inclusion index or penetration is currently about 70% because it is telco-driven. And as such, there shouldn’t be any problem paying for the service. No service is free. Pay the telcos, that’s all we ask. Okay, and as we’re saying, now, pay them for the debt, the accumulated debt, and then pay them for the service they are rendering as we speak.

“At a meeting between the acting CBN governor, the NCC, the telcos and the banks, it was acknowledged that the debt exists, that going forward, the service has to be paid for by the banks through corporate billing. It is an important development for the telecoms industry that we have found an amicable resolution to the problem because we’re all serving the same government. We do not want to disrupt financial services in the country.

“We want to see the financial inclusion penetration to even go higher. We want it to be ubiquitous, but we cannot do this without settling the legacy debt, as well as paying for the service that is being provided”, Danbatta added.

Recalling how the cause of the USSD indebtedness, the NCC’s boss maintained that the lenders’ insistence on end-user billing as opposed to corporate billing alternative led to the debt accumulation.

He clarified: “The USSD service is being provided to the banks, who in turn provide the service to their customers. The question was who should be paying for the service.

“They wanted end-user billing, but we said the service is being provided to the banks, not to their customers. The banks charge their customers for the service, and they are to pay the telcos in the form of corporate billing, which is neat.

“Then along the way, there was a misunderstanding and the debt kept piling until it reached a humongous amount of over N100 billion. Even at that, the service was still being provided to customers by the banks using the telecom infrastructure and the telcos were being paid nothing. This was despite the intervention of the immediate past Minister,” Danbatta added.

The telecom operators under the aegis of the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) had recently threatened to disconnect the banks from the USSD service after interventions by the immediate past Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, failed.

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