Interconnect debts: No telecom subscribers will be disconnected — NCC

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Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has assured the over 160 million telecom
subscribers in Nigeria that none of them will be disconnected or suffer service disruption as a result of interconnect debt by some telecom operators.

The NCC Executive Commissioner for Stakeholder Management, Mr Sunday Dare,  gave the assurance in a statement on Friday
in Abuja.

He said that the subscribers would not be affected by the commission’s recent order on disconnection of indebted operators
from other operators’ networks.

He added that the approval given by the NCC was not for any network to disconnect subscribers as being wrongly presented
in some media, but for some creditor networks to restrict services to debtor networks.

He stated that “the NCC is a consumer-centric regulator; the protection of our consumers and the sustainability of the industry
are the primary drivers of our activities.

“So in this case, even before we granted the permission for disconnection, we had put some very stringent safety valves in
place to protect consumers.

“And ensure that they continue to enjoy uninterrupted service while we address the very serious issue of indebtedness in
the industry.”

Giving a background to the issue of disconnection of networks, Dare stated that “over the years, the industry has been plagued
with the very serious problem of interconnect and facility indebtedness. ”

He stated that some operators racked up huge debts to others and have simply refused to pay.

“Now, we understand that there are ecosystem issues affecting all operators and we are daily working with all stakeholders
to resolve these issues.

“But the level of indebtedness in the industry is at an embarrassingly high level, and the whole telecoms industry is at risk of
failure if we do not act
”, he said.

He further stated that indebtedness should ideally not occur in an industry where over 90% of consumers are pre-paid.

According to him, the commission has held several meetings with the parties and given several deadlines for the debtors to pay,
to no avail.

“The Nigerian Communications Act of 2003 contains very strict consumer protection measures which we have continued to
uphold, such as the requirement that no operator can disconnect another operator without the written approval of the NCC.

“ But it appears that some operators were taken unfair advantage of this provision by racking up millions, sometimes billions
of naira in debts to other operators.

“Denying their creditors of funds to expand their networks and putting the industry in peril, “Dare said.

“Having done everything we could, including holding many meetings with the parties and brokering several payments plans
to no avail.

“ NCC has little choice in the matter but to grant the persistent requests of the creditor organisations to disconnect the
chronic debtors in accordance with the Nigerian Communications Act and our Disconnection Regulations”
, he said.

While reassuring subscribers of safety,  Dare noted that “there are a number of inbuilt safety valves the commission was
implementing to protect consumers. In the first place.

He said that NCC had published a notice alerting both the debtors and the general public of the impending order to approve
disconnection.

“This was published in major newspapers a few weeks ago, and we hoped the debtors will regularize their position, but they
did not.  Under the law, the next step is to publish a pre-disconnection which we did earlier this week
”.

You will notice that in the Pre-Disconnection Notice, we gave another period of ten and/or twenty-one 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 expect that as responsible business people, the debtor organisations will either pay up or agree satisfactory payment
plans with their creditors. This is another safety valve for consumers – it will ensure that they continue to enjoy uninterrupted service

However, the worst case scenario is that the debtors would fail to pay up after this grace period. Even in that case, we have
built in yet another safety valve for consumers.

“ If and when we grant a final disconnection notice, we will only permit one-way disconnection in the first case.

“This means that consumers on the debtor networks may have some difficulty receiving calls, but they will still be able to
call out to other networks without restriction.

“Also, we have a very robust number portability system in place so that those who wish can port to other networks. But we
are hoping it would not come to this
”.

Dare therefore encouraged telephone consumers to be rest-assured, noting that the NCC will continue to use all its powers
to protect both the consumers and the entire industry.

Our focus is to ensure that the telecoms industry is more strengthened, so that it can continue to drive growth across
all facets of Nigeria’s social and economic life”, 
 he stated.

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