By Oluwatobi Opusunju
Today, 31st of January is the deadline for erring telecom interconnect houses to state reasons why their operating licenses should not be suspended by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) for engaging in call masking and refilling even as the industry’s umbrella association: Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) is demanding that the telecoms regulator releases proof of evidence to justify its claims against the erring operators.
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But an undeterred NCC has reiterated that it will revoke the operating licenses of the interconnect exchange points in accordance with the law. The regulator revealed that since its suspension notice was issued, the consumer satisfaction data has indicated noticeable reduction in masking to reflect the aggressive measures the commission is taking to deal with the menace.
In a letter issued last week, the regulator had accused six operators of carrying out all masking and refiling in the telecoms industry – the acts are deemed illegal under the law. The offending operators are Interconnect Clearing House Nigeria Limited; Medallion Communications Limited; Nicconx Communications Limited; Breeze Micro Limited; Solid Interconnectivity and Exchange Telecommunications limited.
The six clearinghouses have publicly denied the allegation. ATCON has also spoken in their defense and has asked the regulator for proof. The President of ATCON, Mr. Olusola Teniola, said while NCC has been clamoring to suspend the alleged offenders, it has not done the needful by revealing to them evidences to substantiate the accusation.
According to Teniola, almost 95% of voice traffic is routed peer-to-peer amongst the network operators while barely 5% of voice calls are transited through clearinghouse which naturally tilt such accusation against telcos and not clearinghouses. He added that all the voice calls originate from mobile and fixed network providers and terminate with them as clearinghouses neither have subscribers nor originate calls.
“They have not shared the evidence with the licensees that they are hoping to suspend and that the problem they are alluding to emanated from them. Also, it is important to note that only five per cent of voice and the SMS traffic goes through the interconnect houses. What is happening to the 95 per cent of calls? Are we saying there is no call refilling or masking originating from the networks? These are some of the things that need to be shown to the licensees as evidence,” said a worried Tenuiola.
But in a recent statement issued by the NCC’s Director of Public Affairs, Mr. Tony Ojobo, the commission disclosed that its officials and senior operatives from the nation’s security services met with representatives of the affected licensees at the NCC’s Abuja office Wednesday last week to confront the erring operators with some of the evidence at the disposal of the commission and to give them yet another opportunity to defend themselves.
According to the statement, the implicated licensees also were January 31, 2018 as deadline, in accordance with the provisions of the Nigerian Communications Act, to show why the commission should not either revoke or suspend their operating licenses in view of evidence of their involvement now at the disposal of the commission and the security agencies.
Ojobo said the NCC will not hesitate to impose the maximum possible penalties on any of the licensees implicated in the practice of masking of international telephone calls. He further revealed that it is likely that the operating licenses of some of the interconnect exchange and other licensees involved in the practice would either be revoked or suspended in the coming week.
An official of the commission familiar with the matter also noted that because of the critical impacts of the illegal practice on national security and consumer experience, the commission is determined to deal decisively with any offending operator.