The Federal Government on Sunday ordered the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to halt the planned imposition of N4 per transaction charge subscribers by MTN.
It was learnt that the proposed charge is for the use of Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) used for banking services.
USSD is a Global System for Mobile (GSM) communication technology used to send text between a mobile phone and an application programme in the network. Applications may include prepaid roaming or mobile chatting. But, in this instance, it is for payment.
Communications Minister Ibrahim Pantami, who gave the directive yesterday through a statement by his media aide, Uwa Suleiman, also urged the NCC to look for ways of bringing down the cost of data and illegal deductions of airtime by service providers.
Dr. Pantami said MTN should stay action on the matter for proper briefing.
The statement 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 Minister of Communications, Dr. Isa Pantami, is unaware of this development and has hereby directed the sector regulator, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) ensures the operator suspends such plans until the Honourable Minister is fully and properly briefed.”
But a telecoms industry source said there was nothing new in the practice of the providers collecting the charge.
According to the source, the banks, through their chief executive officers, acting under the aegis of Body of Bank CEOs, came together and mandated the operators to start deducting charges since the transactions primarily run through their infrastructure.
The source said that other firms have since been implementing the mandate, adding that while MTN planned to charge N4 per transaction, one of the operators charges N4.50.
“It was in the spirit of transparency that MTN decided to notify its subscribers ahead of its implementation,” the source said, wondering why the banks, after purportedly ceding the responsibility to the telcos, still want to double charge the subscribers.
On the need to reduce the cost of data, the minister urged the NCC and the service providers to ensure downward review in prices and improve quality.
Besides, he urged them to curtail illegal deductions of subscribers’ data by service providers.
The minister gave the advice at a meeting with NCC management on the progress made in the implementation of the Short-Term Performance targets set for it.
He said concern that “with the prevailing high cost of data in Nigeria, the citizens still do not enjoy value for money as subscribers’ battle daily with illegal deduction of data, poor Quality of Service (QoS), among others.”
Pantami noted that the steps taken so far in the sector were in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s directives to ensure that all agencies operate effectively and efficiently to meet the yearnings of the people.
A statement by his aide reads: “Dr. Pantami also reminded NCC that as a regulator, their major priority should be protecting the interest of Nigerians and urged them to uphold professionalism and diligence in the discharge of their official responsibilities.
“The commission also tabled challenges of the operators, which includes vandalism of telecom infrastructures, inadequate power supply, right of way, hooliganism, multiple taxations, among others, and used the opportunity to call for the swift intervention of the minister to address the issues.
“The minister also directed Galaxy Backbone, a government-owned Information Technology service provider, to think out of the box, leverage on the advantage it has as a government-funded entity to deliver effective and efficient services to Nigerians, and, in turn, attract more revenue for the government.”