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Minister’s complaint ‘sparked call masking crackdown’

Minister’s complaint ‘sparked call masking crackdown’
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A complaint by a Federal Minister in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet sparked the spate of clampdown against call masking in which six companies have been allegedly indicted by government.

Technology Times learnt that the complaint by the Minister (name withheld) at a Federal Executive Council (FEC) had triggered a chain reaction that led to the ongoing investigation of call masking activities also known in telecoms industry lingo as traffic refiling.

The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) alleges that six companies were involved in the practice of using technologies that allow them terminate inbound international telecoms traffic as local calls, so they don’t have to pay International Termination Rate (ITR), which is the interconnection charges set by telecoms traffic carriers as carrier-to-carrier charges.

Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications
Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications

Six interconnect clearing companies, Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria Limited; Medallion Communications Limited; Niconnx Communication Limited; Breeze Micro Limited; Solid Interconnectivity and Exchange Telecommunications Limited, were alleged to have been implicated in call masking activities in Nigeria, according to NCC.

Meanwhile, a senior government official told Technology Times on condition of anonymity that a high-ranking Minister complained at a FEC meeting that each time his daughter calls from abroad, it shows a local number, a development he says poses grave security concern.

Other cabinets members at the meeting were said to have added their voices saying that they have encountered similar experiences when they receive international calls that often show up on their phones with local numbers of mobile phone networks.

Following the overwhelming complaints and concerns raised by the senior government officials, the Presidency waded in by asking top law enforcement agencies to investigate the matter alongside the nation’s telecoms regulatory agency, the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC).

Mr Tony Ojobo, Director, Public Affairs at NCC was later to subsequently confirm that the six affected interconnect companies were given till January 31, this year to show cause why their licences should not be revoked over the call masking allegations, following the outcome of the investigations.

“Because of the critical impacts of this nefarious practice on national security and consumer experience, the Commission is determined to decisively deal with any of its licensees implicated in the scam. We do not want to expose the country to any further embarrassment. At the very least, serious sanctions would be imposed on them if it is found that their involvement does not justify license or revocation of their licenses”, Ojobo says.

According to him, the telecoms regulator “has taken the pains to very strictly follow the provisions of the applicable laws so that on one can claim to be unfairly treated, given the severity of the sanctions the Commission is planning to impose.”

Soon after the expiration of the deadline, the telecoms regulator says it is ruling out the imposition of the maximum penalty against the six companies because such action will be inimical to the growth of the telecoms industry.

According to Mr Sunday Dare, Executive Commissioner Stakeholder Management at NCC licence revocation “will be last resort” in the regulator’s review of responses by the affected companies.

“We are in the process of reviewing their responses and that will determine which of the licensees will either be suspended or revoked. But revocation will be the last resort and I can tell you that because we want to make the telecoms industry healthy”, the NCC Commissioner was quoted as saying when briefing journalists on the development in Lagos.

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