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Telcos, Banks Reach Deal on N120Bn USSD Debt


Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has confirmed that the impasse between telecommunication operators and deposit money banks (DMBs) over the accumulated N120 billion unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) debt has been resolved after the intervention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Prof. Umar Danbatta, executive vice chairman of the NCC, disclosed this in Lagos, saying the matter has been resolved reasonably well, according to the Guardian.

He said with the help of the telecoms sector, financial inclusion has reached 70 per cent, stressing that the USSD helped greatly to bridge the gap in the country.

Danbatta at the Telecom Executives and Regulators Forum (TERF) held in Lagos said the banks, after the intervention of Folashodun Shonubi, acting governor of the CBN, have agreed to clear the accumulated debt and continue to pay for the USSD service going forward under the corporate billing term.

According to the EVC, the issue was resolved at a recent meeting between the interim CBN Governor, the NCC, telecom operators and the banks.

The resolution, he said, was achieved based on the realisation that financial inclusion cannot be achieved without telecoms services.

Going memory lane, Danbatta said the origin of the problem was borne out of banks’ insistence on end-user billing as opposed to corporate billing led to debt accumulation.

“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 explained.

He noted that the situation had remained the same until recently when the Acting CBN Governor intervened. The EVC said the apex bank boss acknowledged 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.

“Digital financial inclusion index or penetration is currently about 70 per cent 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 is 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,” he said.

Danbatta, who said the telecoms sector remains the infrastructure for another sector because of its immense importance to the economy, noted that through ICT/telecoms, financial inclusion has reached 70 per cent penetration in the country.

While calling for more support for the sector, the EVC said more innovation and revolution that would help the economy progress significantly would soon be birthed.

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