Debt: NCC’s “Approval to Disconnect” May Trigger Rash of Churn, Porting
For Some telecommunications service subscribers / consumers of data and voice packages from some operators in the country, the coming holidays may be bleak as their service providers may be disconnected or calls terminating on rival networks disallowed no thanks to hanging debt.
The above situation is set to play out as the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on Tuesday wielded the big stick as the industry umpire against erring Internet Service Providers (ISP) and Mobile operators to curb mounting interconnectivity debt which has become a source of worry for the industry.
As at July, telecoms sector interconnect debt was N165 billion according to NCC. However, sources who should know in the industry claim the outstanding figure has grown to about N180 billion within that last five months, making the entire industry uncomfortable.
The NCC in a public notice announcement titled “Pre-Disconnection Notice and …Approval to Disconnect” published on Tuesday, gave an ultimatum of 10 days to erring players, who according to the publication have been indebted to the market leader, MTN, co-player Airtel and IHS, a facility provider.
According to the announcement by NCC, MTN and Airtel brought the matter against Breeze Micro Ltd (Breeze); Exchange Telecommunications Limited (Exchange); and Solid Interconnectivity Services Ltd (Solid) for non settlement of interconnectivity charges.
Hence, approval has been granted for the disconnection of Medallion Communications Limited (Medallion) by MTN. Similarly, same approval was granted to Airtel to disconnect Niconnx Communications Limited (Niconnx) all as a result of non-settlement of interconnect charges.
The NCC emphasizes that the orders for disconnection were issued having examined the applications and circumstances surrounding the indebtedness determined that Niconnx, Breeze, Exchange, Solid and Medallion do not have sufficient reasons for non-payment of their respective interconnect charges.
The NCC approval which is in accordance with section 100 of the Nigerian Communications Act 2003 and the Guidelines on Procedure for Granting Approval to Disconnect Telecommunications Operators, takes effect at the expiration of 21 days from the date of this notice. “MTN and Airtel will cease passing and receiving voice and data traffic through Breeze, Exchange, Medallion, Niconnx and Solid and will thereafter utilize alternative channels in inter with other network service providers”.
In the same vein, Smile, Ntel and Globacom were notified of the applications made by Airtel, MTN and HIS and were given opportunity to comment and state their respective positions.
No convinced, the NCC also granted the disconnection of Smile Communications as a result of non-settlement of interconnect charges according to the Nigerian Communications Act with a 10-day moratorium from the date of publication.
The NCC publication signed by Nnamdi Nwokike, Director, Public Affairs, NCC also notified the public that approval was also granted for the disconnection of Emerging Markets Telecommunications Services Ltd (trading as 9Mobile), Smile Communications ltd (Smile) and Swift Networks Ltd (Swift) from the facilities of IHS Nigeria Ltd as a result of non settlement of facility charges.
Apart from MTN and Airtel, (Mobile Network operators) and Spectranet (ISP) most of the other players across the two classifications are affected and may risk losing not only market share and subscribers but their entire operations if the creditors should effect the disconnection as approved by NCC.
A market watcher and Mass Communications lecturer, Lagos State Polytechnic, Mr. Sunday Ogunniyi was of the opinion that the ripple effect of the NCC’s decision in this case, will be monumental.
“It will be catastrophic for some debt ridden operators and partly the industry as it may lead to the exit of some players. The inherent loss of jobs will be grievous! On the other hand, the free ones will get more subscribers who are likely to dump their mobile network or ISP provider for the more stable ones”, Mr. Ogunniyi declared.
In this regard, the situation, according to Mr. Ogunniyi, becomes more compelling for these debtors to wriggle out of the mess quickly. In his view as the yuletide approaches, subscribers on affected networks and ISP platforms will become impatient and porting becomes the next option.
A report in the Guardian claims, the President of the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON), Olusola Teniola wonders how the debt got to this level considering the fact that 98 per cent of telecom services are prepaid by the consumer and since services have already been paid for before they are delivered. “It makes perfect sense that interconnects and tower rental costs must have already been collected by operators owing”, he said.
Olusola, citing recent collapse of the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) companies in the country, said that in the past disconnecting operators eventually ended up in the closure of those businesses while urging, “affected subscribers to use the Mobile Number Portability scheme and port to available network”, the ATCON boss counseled.