MTN Nigeria has received N2.6bn part-payment of interconnect debt from Globacom, sources familiar with the issue confirmed on Thursday. It was gathered that the industry regulator, Nigerian Communications Commission, had intervened in the debt issue, which led to partial disconnection of calls from Glo to MTN subscribers.
The source also said discussions were ongoing to devise a means of recovering the rest of the interconnect debt from Globacom. This is coming after stakeholders weighed into a dispute on the interconnect debt estimated at N4.4bn to avert further breakdown in mobile communication between Globacom subscribers and MTN network users, which had lasted for more than five days.
As of December last year, the interconnect debt in the industry stood at N165bn. Meanwhile, in a statement issued by the NCC on Thursday, the commission called on debtor operators in the industry to promptly settle interconnect debts owed their creditor networks to prevent possible revenue loss and customer flight from their networks to competitors. The commission assured the 174 million telecoms consumers of their protection against any service disruption. The Executive Vice Chairman of the commission, Prof. Umar Danbatta, 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 their quality of experience was not acutely affected.
The EVC recalled that the regulatory approval on permission for disconnection was granted to creditor networks late last year, as a last resort towards resolving the huge interconnection debts threatening the health and sustainability of the industry. “Though the commission granted approval to the MTN’s request to disconnect debtor networks from its network in line with Section 100 of the Nigerian Communications Act (NCA) 2003, the Guidelines on Procedure for Granting Approval to Disconnect Telecommunications Operators, 2012 and other regulatory instruments, what is happening now is that the creditor networks are restricting certain services to their debtor networks in form of one-way disconnection. “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. 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,” he said.
Danbatta expressed displeasure at the slow pace of the settlement of undisputed interconnect bills among the affected operators, adding that with over 90 per cent of prepaid customers on mobile networks, “operators have no reason not to be settling their interconnection bills as and when due.”
He urged consumers experiencing difficulty in reaching certain networks to use alternative lines. Danbatta said, “You will recall that in the pre-disconnection notice issued last year on December 18, 2018, we gave another period of between 10 days and 21 days for the debtors (depending on whether they are service networks or exchange operators) to pay, so as not to lose their interconnection rights.
“We had expected that as responsible business entities, the debtor companies will either pay up or agree satisfactory payment plans with their creditors. But it appears no agreeable settlements plans have been reached after the expiration of the deadline, leading to the creditor’s decision to go ahead with the execution of the one-way disconnection, as permitted by the NCA Act 2003, which is what some subscribers are currently experiencing,” he said. PUNCH