In a policy change, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) yesterday said it had revised its determination on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) pricing.
The commission said the pricing, published on July 23, 2019, was in furtherance of its mandate to protect the interests of consumers and support a robust telecommunications sector.
Dr Ikechukwu Adinde, NCC Director, Public Affairs, said the amendment was necessitated following a protracted dispute between Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and Financial Institutions on the applicable charges for USSD services and the method of billing.
“ As a responsive and effective regulatory authority, we recognize 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.
Adinde 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 of Communication was “genuinely besieged with a barrage of complaints at the attempted commencement of end-user billing by service providers.
According to him, USSD is a service to banks and not to the telecommunications Consumers.
“As such, banks should see themselves as corporate customers of telecommunication operators with a duty to pay for using the its 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.
He said that they included financial, insurance, agricultural, government services and more.
“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,’’ he add