NIGERIA: Telcos threaten to shut down USSD platform

By Prince Osuagwu

The telecommunications companies, telcos in Nigeria have threatened to shut down the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data, USSD platform which banks use for mobile money transfer if CBN fails to compel banks to pay the N2 share due to them. The telcos, through their umbrella body, the Association of Licensed Telecom Operators in Nigeria, ALTON, said the decision became necessary after banks fail to pay telcos the agreed percentage share but find other means of generating from the platform.

Chairman of the association Engr Gbenga Adebayo, says since operators’ other means of generating revenue from USSD platform would only mean imposing an additional cost on the subscribers, the group insists that the banks continue to honour the commercial agreement with the operators or they (operators) will be forced to shut down the USSD window. Shutting down the windows will mean that the banks will not have access to the shortcodes which bank account holders use to send money through their mobile phones.

Dropping the hint at a press conference heralding the association’s 20 years anniversary, Adebayo said that the only way to avert the impending doom was for the industry stakeholders including the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, the telcos and if possible the ministers overseeing these agencies, to come together and find a lasting solution to the issue.

He said a situation where the telcos will develop a platform and the banks are using it to make money while the developers get nothing is not only unfair but can never make an inclusive economy. Adebayo said that initially a working group comprising the CBN, NCC and the telcos met and agreed that out of the N50-N70 cost-based charge for financial transfers through the USSD, the banks should remit N2 per session to the telcos. He said that after the resolution, a commercial agreement was signed between CBN and individual telecom operators but midway into the agreement the banks reneged and stopped remitting the said percentage.

According to him, at one of the meetings to resolve the issue CBN told the operators to find a way to create its own charges because the banks would no longer share revenue accruing from USSD transactions with them again. Adebayo said: “since we have discovered that finding another means of creating revenue from USSD transactions would mean double taxation on the subscribers, we have decided that should the CBN fail to compel the banks to honour the agreement, we will shut the platform and no bank will have access to the shortcodes for mobile money transactions”