Stakeholders in the telecom Industry have criticized the NCC’s publication of notices to disconnect network providers unable to settle their interconnect and infrastructure debts as ineffective and not the best solution available to the regulator to resolve this industry crisis.
Noting that the issue of indebtedness has built over the past 15 years and previous attempts to use disconnection of networks as the solution to this problem has not worked, Olusola Teniola the President of Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), called for the full implementation of an automated settlement scheme for the telecom industry in Nigeria as the way out of this situation.
ATCON had earlier endorsed the automated settlement scheme when called upon by the NCC to advise on a solution to the rising debt of telecom operators. The scheme requires that all operators set aside a percentage of their daily recharge card sales, which is automatically paid into a settlement account and used every month to handle all interconnect and facility obligations.
This process assures all interconnect and facility bills are paid when due. Operators with legacy debts will be required to set aside a higher percentage to deal with the legacy debts until they are paid off.
This way within a period of no more than 12 months all legacy debts are cleared with no new debts being added. This represents the sure way to get the industry out of this predicament. This is possible because 98% of the services taken by subscribers are prepaid.
The originating network should have the money before the service is used. They have the means to pay using the current and future earnings on the network.
Speaking in a similar vein, an industry expert who requested to stay anonymous because of the sensitive nature of the issue added that NCC’s approach would amount only ‘bandaging’ the problem instead of really solving it.
He stated that this issue has plagued the industry for too long and going by past experiences, disconnection of networks only ended up reducing the number of service providers in the country while not guaranteeing the debts owed operators will ever get settled. These operators are still in business so they have the means to pay if a proper framework to collect the payments is in place. That is what the industry efforts should be centered around, he said.
When contacted, one of the interconnect exchange operators affected by the NCC publication wondered why the NCC would list them for disconnection when there is no evidence to show they have been paid by the network operators that passed the traffic.
He stated that the interconnect operators don’t collect money from subscribers and it is only when they have been paid by the originating network, that payment can be made to the terminating network. In his words, we have explained and presented evidence to the NCC that we have not been paid by the originating networks.
We are also being owed our portion of the transit fee. We are being owed hundreds of millions of naira by the telecom operators. All we have been told by the NCC is to also initiate a process to disconnect operators owing us.
However, this does not solve our problem since it does not guarantee we will ever be paid. We are simple being punished by the NCC for doing our job and now it appears they want us not to be paid at all. This is a sad development for the telecom industry in Nigeria.