THE Federal Government is set to resolve interconnectivity debt, estimated at N30bn, among telecommunications companies in the country, it has been learnt.
It was learnt that the Federal Government had been addressing issues bordering on interconnection rate settlement among telecommunications operators in the country. The unresolved issues on the rates had resulted in increasing interconnect debts among the operators.
This was made known to our correspondent on Friday, by sources who were privy to the details of a meeting between President Muhammadu Buhari and his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, on Tuesday night.
Termination or interconnection rates are the charges which one telecommunications operator charges another for terminating calls on its network.
It was learnt that Zuma had informed the Nigerian President about the N13.6bn being owed MTN from interconnect debt by other telecoms operators, saying such was capable of threatening the stability of the country’s telecoms market.
The South African president had also stated that as MTN pays in “good faith” the fine imposed on it by the Nigerian Communications Commission, getting other telcos to repay MTN the interconnect debt would help the firm in its eventual stability in the market.
Competent industry players put the telecommunications sector’s interconnect debt at N30bn as of February, of which MTN was being owed N13.6bn, representing about 40 per cent of the total debt.
Confirming the development, the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, said, “The government is currently looking into how the issues would be resolved very soon.”
He added, “The focus is to see how the issue of the debt may be resolved in the interest of industry stability.”
The minister had visited MTN last Monday, where he was inundated with the issue and the amount the telco is being owed.
Meanwhile, findings showed that various operators have failed to settle their interconnect debts, a development that has increased the interconnectivity debt profile in the country.
An expert, who did not want his name in print, said, “From less than N10bn in the last five years, interconnectivity debt profile has increased to N30bn, as telecoms firms – big and small players – grapple with rising capital expenditure and operational expenditure in the telecoms industry.”
However, MTN, with about 63 million subscribers, often receive more terminations on its network, and has incurred more unsettled interconnect rates from other players.
Reacting, MTN Nigeria’s General Manager, Regulatory Affairs, Oyeronke Oyetunde, said the issue of the rising profile of interconnectivity debt was something that the industry needed to discuss, “and discuss urgently.”
Oyetunde said, “Otherwise, it may pose questions around sustainability of the industry.”
Larger portion of the debt could actually be traced to the collapse of Code Division Multiple Access operators, which owed bigger players such as MTN, Globacom, Airtel and Etisalat.
Till date, most of the CDMA/fixed line networks in the sector, owing to their collapse and inactivity, are not in active operation.
Already, the NCC has declared 14 licensed telecoms operators inactive.
The commission has also stopped including the monthly data of the affected telecoms firms in the monthly industry status report.