The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) on Tuesday descended heavily on telecoms operators which were found to be involved in call masking and refilling by suspending their operational licences, and barring 750,000 phone numbers that were registered with some telecoms operators and used in carrying out the illegal practice of call masking and refilling.
NCC had earlier identified six telecoms operators involved in call masking and refilling to include Medallion Communications Limited; Interconnect Cleaning House Nigeria Limited; Niconnx Communication Limited, Breeze Micro Limited; Solid Interconnectivity and Exchange Telecommunications Limited and had threatened outright revocation or suspension of their licences after wide consultation.
Call masking and refilling is an attempt by operators to hide the actual telephone numbers of callers when routing calls, especially international calls, which are not charged, because the caller’s identity is completely hidden on the network.
Announcing the various sanctions on different telecoms operators, in relation to the weight of their offenses, the Director, Public Affairs of NCC, Mr. Tony Ojobo, said the commission had been inundated with complaints from service providers and consumers regarding the high incidence of call masking, call refiling and SIM-Boxing. “Generally, the practice complained of 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 has also created some negative security implications,” Ojobo said in a statement.
Part of the statement read: 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. These include the following sanctions: Suspension of the Interconnect Clearinghouse License issued to Medallion Communications Limited for a period of 90 days, in the first instance; Issuance of a strong warning to Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria Limited.
Disconnection of Information Connectivity Solutions Limited (ICSL) and Solid Interconnectivity Services Limited from all networks, until they regularise their operations; Issuance of letters to Exchange Telecoms Limited, NiconnX Limited and Breeze Micro Limited, cautioning them against engaging in the fraudulent practice; and Barring of 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 utilised for the practice.
But in a quick reaction, the Managing Director of Medallion Communications Limited, Mr. Ikechukwu Nnamani, said he was shocked that NCC went ahead to sanction his company, which he insisted is innocent of the charge against it. He said the company would review the position of NCC, before responding properly at the right time.
Ojobo however said the sanctioned entities 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.
Regarding the barring of over 750,000 individual numbers across the country, made up of about 31 number ranges, Ojobo listed the licensees whose numbers have been barred to include 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.
He said the commission found that some of these were terminating millions of minutes, whereas they only have very few active customers.
The commission is pleased to note that the incidence of call masking has significantly reduced since it commenced a multi-faceted approach to address the menace. NCC 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, Ojobo said.
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 the opportunity to correct the identified anomalies and satisfy the commission that it should be allowed to continue to operate in Nigeria. It reserves the right to revoke the licence of such service providers where they fail to take the necessary corrective measures, Ojobo added.