Following public outcry against the charges for the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and the subsequent suspension of the implementation of the charges, the Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON) has called on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to as a matter of priority, convene a meeting of the financial and telecoms industry stakeholders to address the issue for the benefit of the consumers and other stakeholders.
ALTON Chairman, Engineer Gbenga Adebayo while providing clarity on the issues surrounding the USSD access and the associated charges said that the Association is deeply concerned about the feelings of customers who have been instrumental in the growth of the telecommunications sector.
He explained that the USSD channel has evolved over time from a telco exclusive channel used for only telco services such as balance inquiry and recharges, to a channel being utilized for the deployment of financial, insurance, agricultural and government services among others. The USSD channel he added is delivered using the Standalone Dedicated Control Channel (SDCCH) which is also used for call set-up, SMS set-up, and delivery.
He further explained that, “With the increase in USSD traffic driven by financial services which currently constitutes approximately 90% of the entire USSD traffic, our members have continued to incur additional costs to provision additional SDCCH channels to mitigate against the negative impact on the quality of service.It is therefore factually incorrect when allusions are made that USSD costs incurred by our members are sunk costs which are not recoverable,”
“In order to accelerate the adoption of financial services on USSD, the banks partnered with our members to zero-rate the USSD access to end-users, while the banks bore the cost for the provision of service. Based on this arrangement, the banks took on the responsibility of billing customers and paid our members for use of the USSD infrastructure from the service fees deducted from the customer’s bank account. These service fees charged by the banks, were however far in excess of the costs remitted to our members by the Banks for providing the USSD platform and have since remained so.
“The banks, however, provided no assurances to our members that such service fees charged to customers’ bank accounts for access to bank services through the USSD channel will be discontinued post implementation of end-user billing by our members. The removal of these service fees by the banks would have meant that if bank customers were charged only the USSD costs communicated by our members per USSD session, bank customers will be paying far less than what they are currently being charged by the banks which in some instances are as high as N50,” he said.