MTN Nigeria yesterday said it will go ahead to charge its customers for Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) voice or text message which allows them access to bank services via their mobile phones.
The telecom said it would start charging its subscribers from today, despite a directive by the Federal Government to halt the plan, Daily Trust reports.
MTN’s subscribers on Sunday received messages from the company informing them that with effect from today, it will start charging them N4 per 20 seconds for USSD voice or N4 for text message.
One of the messages from MTN read: ‘’Yello, as requested by your bank, from Oct 21, we will start charging you directly for USSD access to banking services. Please contact your bank for more info.’’
In yet another message, it said: “Yello, please note that from Oct 21, we will charge N4 per seconds for USSD access to banking services. Thank you.’’
But most of its customers reacted negatively to the new charge, saying it is exploitative. They therefore complained to the Minister of Communications Dr Isa Ali Panatmi via his twitter handle @DrIsaPantami, calling on the minister to rein in on MTN.
Dr Pantami answered one of them, saying he has directed NCC to ask MTN to halt the planned charge. ‘’Many thanks for drawing my attention to it. We have directed NCC to ask MTN to suspend the plan. We are not aware of it officially. We will investigate and make sure right thing is done. Best wishes’’, the minister said.
But a top official said that the telecom would still go ahead to introduce the charge, Daily Trust reports. The official who pleaded anonymity because he was not officially cleared to speak to the press said it introduced the charge on the directive of Bankers Committee.
“Other telecom operators have been charging their customers for USSD before they could access their banks’ services; we are the last to introduce it.
“Bank Committees with the knowledge of CBN told us to charge the customers directly. Before it was the banks that deducted the whole charge, now it was agreed in a meeting with CBN knowledge that we should now charge N4 directly, and that the banks should charge their customers the rest.
“It should be N22: we charge N4 and they should deduct the remaining. But as it is now, the banks are still taking the whole N22.”
Meanwhile, the CBN has told banks to yank off businesses from telecommunication operators charging bank customers using USSD to make transactions.
The CBN Governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele said this during a press briefing at the sidelines of the World Bank/IMF meetings in Washington DC.
He explained that “about five months ago, I held a meeting with some telecom companies as well as the leading banks in Nigeria and the issue of USSD came up. At that time, we came to conclusion that the use of USSD is a sunk cost which is not an additional cost on the infrastructure of the telecom companies. But the telecoms companies disagreed with us and said it’s an additional investment and they needed to impose it. I appeal to them that they should review it downwards and they refused’ he said.
Explaining further Mr. Emefiele said: “I understand that three or four weeks ago, rather than reduce it, they went ahead to increase it by 300 percent. I opposed it and I have told the banks that we will not allow this to happen. The banks are the people who give this business to the telecoms companies and I leave the banks and the telecom companies to engage. I have told the banks that they have to move their business, move their traffic to a telecom company that is ready to provide it at the lowest possible if not zero cost”. That’s where we stand and we must achieve it.’’
He said the telco’s decision will impede financial inclusion.