The federal government has opposed the move of telcos to increase charges on use unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) channels to access banking services.

The Association of Licensed Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), the umbrella body for telecoms operators, has called on the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to urgently address the impasse surrounding the implementation of the charges for the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) access to banking services which has been put on hold.

In a statement issued on Tuesday and made available to newsmen, ALTON expressed displeasure over the suspension of the charges by telecom operators.

According to ALTON Chairman, Gbenga Adebayo, “Our attention has been drawn to the public outcry against the charges for the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) access to banking services and the subsequent suspension of the implementation of the charges by the Honourable Minister of Communications. Our members are deeply concerned about the feelings of customers who have been instrumental in the growth of the telecommunications sector.

“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, etc. The USSD channel is delivered using the Standalone Dedicated Control Channel (SDCCH) which is also used for call set-up, SMS set-up, and delivery.

Adebayo said the banks identified the convenience of delivering services to its customers over the USSD channel and applied to NCC for USSD codes to deliver these services. USSD shortcodes were thereafter issued to the banks and as is expected, they became fully responsible for the charges associated with delivering services to their customer through these shortcodes.

For some years now, the USSD channel has become a preferred service channel for the financial sector because of the cost efficiencies derived from the adoption of the channel. Today, USSD codes such as *737#, *906# have become leading brands because banks have intensified the promotion of this channel to mostly the banked base towards the overall improvement of efficiencies with less focus on other service channels such as brick and mortar centres.

“In view of the opposition to the implementation of end-user billing by customers, our members, as responsible and responsive corporate citizens are committed to safeguarding consumer interests, and in this regard, we are willing to explore mutually beneficial solutions which ensure that costs associated with the provision of USSD services as determined by the Nigerian Communications Commission are fully recovered by our members and customers are not billed twice for the same service and by different institutions which is what end-user billing advocated by the banks will entail.

ALTON said its members challenged the implementation of end-user billing until a formal request for its implementation was received from the Body of Bankers Chief Executive Officers and several banks specifically demanding that end-user billing be implemented.

“In this vein, we call on the Nigerian Communications Commission and the Central Bank of Nigeria to, as a matter of priority, convene a meeting of the financial and telecoms industry stakeholders to address this issue for the benefit of the consumers and other stakeholders,” Adebayo stressed.

The chief executive officers of deposit money banks in the country in a joint statement released yesterday, said the charges on financial transactions have not been changed.

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