Nigeria’s Government cancels NCC-Netvisa mobile phone anti-theft payment deal

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The Federal Government at the weekend slammed a cancellation order on a deal approved by the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to impose a mandatory monthly fee on all mobile phone lines to be paid by network operators to privately-owned Netvisa GSM Secured Limited, a company licensed to offer Central Equipment Identity Registry (CEIR) in the country.

Technology Times checks revealed exclusively that the cancellation order is the key resolution of a closed door meeting held on Friday in Abuja by the Ministry of Information and Communications.

The Ministry had earlier imposed a three-week suspension order on the Netvisa’s anti-theft scheme in the wake of public outcry against the 40kobo monthly price tag placed on the service which GSM mobile operators had insisted can be offered cost-free for the benefit of subscribers in the country.

Last Friday, Minister of Information and Communications, Dora Akunyili met with senior officials of NCC led by the agency’s EVC/CEO, Ernest Ndukwe at a closed door session that also was also attended by representatives of mobile phone companies, Netvisa officials and other stakeholders where the landmark decision was handed down to the telecoms regulator.

Akunyili told attendees at the meeting that though the anti-theft scheme is laudable she subsequently issued a final directive that both operators and subscribers cannot be shouldered the additional burden of payment for the service. NCC was directed to fund the cost of offering the service by Netvisa.

The Minister’s cancellation is another major blow for the regulator coming after President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who cited lack of transparency, cancelled a process through which NCC had sold 2.3GHz frequency spectrum to three companies Multi-Links, Mobitel Limited and Spectranet.

In a bid to conduct fresh auctions of the licences, it was learnt at the weekend that NCC has set up an internal Committee made up of officials of the regulatory agency to among others work out modalities for fresh sale as directed by President Yar’Adua. The team has since set to work in what is yet seen as indications that a fresh run of the 2.3 GHz frequency spectrum sale may be on the horizon.

Meanwhile, to assuage the protest against the paid option adopted for the Netvisa anti-theft scheme, Akunyili had directed that NCC should be responsible for payment to Netvisa, a decision hoped to relieve operators and subscribers of the need to pay for the CEIR service.

Technology Times learnt that details of the resolution of the meeting will soon be announced while all parties expect that the necessary “paper works” would soon follow to various stakeholders, particularly operators that have hitherto signed a two-year interconnect agreement with Netvisa to connect to the CEIR service.

Ahead of last Friday’s meeting, Akunyili had initially slammed a suspension order on the Netvisa scheme when public outcry trailed the signing of interconnectivity pact between Netvisa and two of the biggest mobile phone, MTN Nigeria and Zain Nigeria.

Operators had limited their interconnect deal with Netvisa to two years after they were granted comfort by NCC that the regulator would pay for the service during that time frame. But operators continued to be concerned that the subscribers may be asked to pay the monthly bill for the service estimated to gulp over N300million based on current subscriber number officially pegged at over 65million subscriber lines.

Market watchers reckon that last Friday’s decision may now see NCC returning to the drawing board to work out a payment plan for Netvisa, which would now pick its cheques from the regulator rather than operators connecting to its CEIR, the service expected to enable phone users block their handsets in the event of theft.

Ahead of the weekend meeting that cancelled the payment plan for Netvisa, the Minister had told Technology Times in an exclusive interview that the Ministry, in consideration of overriding public interest, has issued a directive to NCC that the anti-theft scheme be suspended for three weeks to review the positions of all stakeholders including the regulator, service provider, mobile operators and the community of mobile phone users in the country.

According to her, the Ministry held a meeting with NCC leadership Monday in the wake of overwhelming feedback from operators and members of the public who have complained that NCC ignored offers by operators that the paid service could have been offered free of charge to Nigerian mobile phone users by operators.

According to the Minister, “it was on TV that I saw the kick-starting of the programme by NCC and Netvisa”, noting that even though the programme was laudable against the background of rampant theft of mobile phones in the country, there was need to review the position of stakeholders who have complained about the service being offered as a mandatory paid service, “when operators have said that it could be offered free.”

The Minister also said that stakeholders have also informed the Ministry that the mobile phone blacklisting service can be offered free by international bodies like the International Telecommunications Agency (ITU), the UN specialised agency supervising the global telecoms industry; the GSM Association, the global pressure group of GSM operators among others.

Under a deal brokered by NCC between Netvisa and operators, mobile operators will directly remit the monthly fee to the CEIR operator and deduct same from their annual numbering fees paid into government coffers through NCC over the next two years, in the first phase.

Additionally, Akunyili said that NCC did not receive approval of the Ministry to make Nigerian taxpayers bear the burden of cost for the service under which every mobile phone line will be billed 40kobo monthly following the regulator’s acceptance to have operators net off the cost from their annual numbering fee paid government.

If you were the CEO of NCC, Ernest Ndukwe you might be a bit fed up with the Minister as this is the second time she has intervened in a major regulatory decision.

Technology Times