The Nigerian Communications Commission has suspended the operating licenses of some telecommunications operators for engaging in call masking.
The commission also issued warning letters to others it said were caught engaging in the practice.
A statement issued in Abuja on Tuesday by the Director of Public Affairs, NCC, Tony Ojobo, said the telecommunications regulatory agency had also begun the second phase of investigation on the involvement of digital mobile operators in masking activities.
Call masking is the act of concealing international calls coming into a country and presenting them as local in order to make profits from the difference in prices between local and international calls.
“The NCC has recently been inundated with complaints from service providers and consumers regarding the high incidence of call masking , call refiling and SIM boxing,” the statement said.
“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 also has some negative security implications . Following a painstaking investigation process , which included collaboration with the Office of the National Security Adviser and the Department of State Services , the commission has imposed a range of sanctions on licensees involved in the fraudulent practice.”
According to the statement, the sanctions include suspension of the interconnect clearing house licence issued to Medallion Communications Limited for a period of 90 days and issuance of a strong warning to Interconnect Clearinghouse Nigeria Limited.
NCC also announced the disconnection of Information Connectivity Solutions Limited and Solid Interconnectivity Services Limited from all networks until these regularise operations, and issuance of warning letters to Exchange Telecoms Limited , NiconnX Limited and Breeze Micro Limited , cautioning them against engaging in the fraudulent practice.
Mr. Ojobo disclosed that the commission also barred over 750,000 numbers assigned to several Private Network Links and Local Exchange Operator licensees, many of which he said were found to have been utilised for the masking activity.
The NCC said the sanctioned companies were found to be “directly and indirectly complicit in several infractions”, including covertly allowing organisations with expired licences to transit calls and failure to undertake due diligence on parties seeking to interconnect.
The statement listed other infractions to include “deliberately turning a blind eye to masking infractions by interconnect partners and using a licence issued to other organisation to bring in and terminate international calls”, which were masked as local calls to other operators.
Mr. Ojobo noted that the NCC reserved the right to revoke the licences of service providers where they failed to take the necessary corrective measures.
The statement said: “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.
“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 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.”
Over 750,000 individual numbers across the nation, Mr. Ojobo said, made up of about 31 number ranges had been barred.
The licensees whose numbers were barred are: Vezeti Communications Services Limited, Voix Networks Limited, Mobitel Limited, Peace Global Satellite Communications Limited, ABG Communications Limited and Vodacom Business Africa ( Nigeria ) Limited.
Others are Swift Telephone Networks Limited, QVODA Telecoms Limited, Wireless Telecoms Limited and Emcatel Networks Limited.
The commission said it found that some of these firms were “terminating millions of minutes, whereas they only had very few active customers.”