The level of interconnect debts in the country is so high that it can sink the telecommunications industry if left unchecked, the Nigerian Communications Commission has said.
The Executive Commissioner, Stakeholder Management, NCC, Mr Sunday Dare, said this in a statement made available to our correspondent in Abuja on Friday.
Dare explained that it was because of this that the regulatory commission had given limited approval to operators to disconnect debtor networks.
The NCC helmsman, however, added that the commission had put all necessary measures in place to ensure that no subscriber suffered intense service disruption should any operator wait until it was taken out from an interconnect grid of another operator.
Interconnect debt represents the debt incurred by an operator for terminating calls on another network.
Dare assured the general public that none of the over 160 million telecoms subscribers in Nigeria would be disconnected or suffer service disruptions as a result of its recent order to permit the disconnection of indebted operators from other operators’ networks.
He clarified that the approval given by the NCC was not for any network to disconnect subscribers but for some creditor networks to restrict services to debtor networks.
Dare said, “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.
“Over the years, the industry has been plagued with the very serious problem of interconnect and facility indebtedness. Some operators have 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 added, “This kind of problem should ideally not occur in an industry where over 90 per cent of consumers is pre-paid. We had 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 taking 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.”