It may sound crazy but two telecommunication companies in Nigeria are currently embroiled in some kind of beef that has gotten so serious that one of the telcos has actually barred subscribers of the other from reaching subscribers on its network. And so serious that the Nigerian Communications Communications (NCC) has had to step in to settle the squabble.
For some time now, MTN Nigeria and Globacom Nigeria have been engaged in some kind of back and forth over an interconnect debt believed to be worth around NGN 3.1 Bn, at least, that’s the figure from one side of the feud.
In plain language, MTN Nigeria is mad at Globacom for failing to pay up its outstanding interconnect debt and because of that, it had disconnected some Globacom subscribers from calling or texting MTN lines. That’s been the case for the past few weeks.
The ongoing telco tussle has caused subscribers on either side to suffer and, thus, the NCC had to step in by scheduling a sit down with the executives of both telcos this past Friday. The meeting was held to settle the dispute between the top telcos in the country and work out a plan for settling the remaining debt.
Word on the streets is that Globacom is holding out for NGN 3.1 Bn which it claims is the total debt owed but MTN is adamant that the debt is much higher and it has records to prove it. The conflicting figures on either side had resulted in an impasse and the subsequent disconnection of some Globacom lines from reaching MTN lines. But the NCC has intervened and asked Globacom to pay NGN 4.4 Bn.
It was gathered that the NCC on Friday summoned the management of both Globacom and MTN to a meeting in an effort to ensure that all parties settled the dispute.
The Executive Vice Chairman of the commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta, had said the regulatory body was committed to ensuring customers enjoy uninterrupted service while efforts were being made to address the issue of indebtedness in the industry.
Danbatta stated that the issue of interconnection was a matter that the commission was handling delicately within the purview of the regulatory provisions to protect consumers by ensuring that the quality of their experience was not acutely affected.
“It is one-way disconnection because, as a regulator, we prevented total disconnection; not doing that would be frustrating for the consumers. So, we have ensured that subscribers on the affected debtor networks are able to receive calls and text messages from creditor networks,” says Danbatta.
“This means they might not be able to make seamless calls or send text messages to the creditor’s network at all times because of restriction of access to debtor networks, pending when satisfactory payment plans are reached with respect to the interconnect indebtedness. This is to prevent further accumulation of interconnect debt by the debtor networks.”
The EVC also expressed displeasure at the slow pace of the settlement over the disputed interconnect bills among the affected operators, saying that with over 90 percent of prepaid customers on mobile networks, “operators have no reason not to be settling their interconnection bills as and when due.”
Meanwhile, MTN has lifted the partial ban on calls from Globacom subscribers in the aftermath of the intervention of the industry regulator which exists to protect the interest of telecom subscribers.
On the sidelines, the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola, is calling for an automated settlement scheme that would compel operators to set aside a percentage of their daily recharge card sales into a settlement account that would be used every month to handle their interconnect and facility obligations.
According to the ATCON boss, previous attempts to use disconnection of networks as the solution to the problem did not have the desired result, with end-users bearing most of the brunt.
“We again appeal to the government to consider an automatic clearing system so that calls that are made between two different networks are settled automatically via this scheme. We need the right solution,” Teniola said. And this idea could actually solve most of the problem and prevent further inter-telco squabbles.
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