Following the recent allegations of call masking leveled against some interconnect operators, the nation’s telecom regulatory body, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has today sanctioned the affected operators.
In a release signed by the Commission’s Director of Public Relations, Tony Ojobo, the NCC noted that following a painstaking investigation process which included collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Department of State Services (DSS), the Commission has imposed a range of sanctions on licensees involved in the fraudulent practice.
The affected licensees include Medallion Communications Limited, which interconnect license has been suspended for a period of 90 (ninety) days; while Information Connectivity Solutions Limited (ICSL) and Solid Interconnectivity Services Limited were disconnected from all networks, until they regularize their operations.
Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria Limited bagged “a strong warning” from the telecom regulator; while Exchange Telecoms Limited, NiconnX Limited and Breeze Micro Limited were issued with letters cautioning them against engaging in the fraudulent practice.
Furthermore, the NCC Barred over 750,000 numbers assigned to several Private Network Links (PNL) and Local Exchange Operator (LEO) licensees, which number ranges were found to have been utilized for the practice.
The sanctioned entities, according to the NCC, were found to be directly and indirectly complicit in several infractions, including, covertly allowing organisations with expired licences to transit calls, failure to undertake due diligence on parties seeking to interconnect, deliberately turning a blind eye to masking infractions by interconnect partners, and using a licence issued to another organisation to bring-in and terminate international calls which were masked as local calls to other operators.
The release, which reads in part: “The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) has recently been inundated with complaints from service providers and consumers regarding the high incidence of call-masking, call-refiling and SIM-Boxing,” further explains that the practice involves disguising international calls as local calls in order to profit from price differentials between international and local calls. Apart from the resultant loss of revenue by service providers, the practice also has negative security implications.
The NCC also explained that over 750,000 individual numbers across the nation, made up of about 31 number ranges have been barred.
The ten (10) licensees whose numbers have been barred are, Vezeti Communications Services Limited, Voix Networks Limited, Mobitel Limited, Peace Global Satellite Communications Limited, ABG Communications Limited, Vodacom Business Africa (Nigeria) Limited, Swift Telephone Networks Limited, QVODA Telecoms Limited, Wireless Telecoms Limited and Emcatel Networks Limited.
The Commission noted that the affected licensees were found to be terminating millions of minutes calls, whereas they only have very few active customers.
The Commission, which expressed satisfaction in the dwindling rate of call masking incidences since it set out to tacking the issue, warned other stakeholders that the exercise just started. “The Commission hereby informs all stakeholders that the actions so far taken are just the first stage of the exercise. The second stage which has now commenced, will focus on the Mobile Network Operators and other persons involved in SIM-Boxing.”
The statement goes further to state: “The aim of the Commission is to completely stamp out the fraudulent practice in the overall interest of all Nigerians. Accordingly, every service provider that has been sanctioned still has an opportunity to correct the identified anomalies and satisfy the Commission that it should be allowed to continue to operate in Nigeria. The Commission reserves the right to revoke the licence of such service providers where they fail to take the necessary corrective measures.”