As Joseph Anokye takes over as the new Acting Director-General of National Communications Authority (NCA), mobile value added service (VAS) providers in the country say they still don't have clarity on their place in the telecoms ecosystem even though NCA has licensed them and takes various fees from them.
"We do not even know what the clear regulatory guidleines for VAS are and yet they (NCA) have licensed us," Director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs for Wireless Applications Services Providers Association of Ghana (WASPAG), Conrad Nyuur told Adom News.
WASPAG is a group of Ghana's topmost mobile VAS providers who work with all the telcos in the country to bring premium short code services such as bulk messaging, short videos and audios among others.
VAS providers operated for so many years without being properly licensed because they were just third party service providers for telcos.
But recently, the NCA decided they need separate licenses because the short codes on which they run their services is now being issued by the NCA itself, under the Special Number Resource (SNR) regime.
So now VAS players are paying up to GHC35,000 as initial license fees, plus one per cent of their annual profits to NCA, as well as specified fees for each short code the NCA authorizes for them, depending on what type of short code, whether three, four or five digits.
Conrad Nyuur said the relationship between VAS players and telcos has been an unfair one with very biased revenue share arrangement, where the telcos take up to 70 per cent and leave only 30 per cent for VAS providers to share with their content owners.
"It has been so because the telcos had control over the short codes and so they called the shots as to which short code they will issue and activate. So when NCA decided to give us direct licenses and issue us with the codes by themselves we thought they would back it up with enforcement regulations but no," Nyurr said.
He said as things stand now, NCA only takes various fees from VAS players and still leave them at the mercy of the telcos.
"We can't understand why NCA would take all these moneys from us and expose us to the networks to continue bullying us," he lamented.
Nyuur said what is even worse now is that the telcos even take an additional two per cent off the VAS players' portion of the revenue and claim it is NCA levy.
He said the NCA itself had said that fee is illegal but the telcos continue to charge that fee simply because there are no clear regulations to stop them.
"We need clarity and real actionable policies on mobile VAS in this country," he said.
Nyuur reiterated his position that VAS players do not know their position in the telecom ecosystem as they are charged licence fees and SNR fees but left unprotected for the telcos to decide how to work with them individually, without regard to any standardization.
He said VAS players still have to beg telcos for licensed shortcodes to be implemented because, very often, telcos claim activating shortcodes authorized by NCA does not make business sense for them.
"Even when a telco decides to activate a shortcodes, we usually have to wait on their timelines for what is doable in two days and that often throw the purpose of the shortcode out of gear," he said.
The WASPAG Spokesperson also said NCA created the impression they were going to help streamline the revenue share arrangement but till date telcos maintain killer revenue share arrangements with VAS players and they claim it is from their group level, even though no VAS player signed any contract with any group overseas.
He also noted that very often, technical challenges from telcos affect the VAS players but because there are no regulations, the telcos have no obligations towards VAS providers.
Late last year, the NCA begun a public consultation process, seeking to know what concerns consumers have about the operations of VAS players, among other things, in order to fashion out regulations to protect consumers.
Whereas that is a laudable initiative, WASPAG believes it is a misplaced priority because NCA does not have regulations for VAS players and yet it wants to regulate consumer complaints about VAS players.
"How do you license someone and don't give him any sort of guidelines that will assist him to operate with his counterparts in the ecosystem but you want to regulate consumer complaints about that person - who does that?
"How do you build a house and put no security but expect to sit in there and catch thieves"? he asked.
NCA had promoted the interconnect clearinghouse as a one stop shop for VAS players connecting to all telcos at a go, but Nyurr said "ICH was not directly meant for us. they shifted our concerns into it when we rejected it."
He asked: "Is the ICH functional - or they are waiting for us to die before they try to resurrect us"?
Indeed, the ICH operator, Afriwave Telecoms has started operations monitoring revenue meant for NCA, but the interconnect work proper, is yet to take off. Connections have been made to the telcos' networks and they are awaiting contracts to be signed for the interconnect work to start.
Conrad Nyuur also stated that there is need for the NCA to focused on promoting local participation in the industry by pursuing policies that strengthen local players to succeed.
"At worst we need a fair and even playing field for all licensed players by the NCA," he said.
The WASPAG Spokesman believes there is need for some dynamism to be injected into the NCA, saying "it is quite obvious that quite a lot of staff in the NCA do not know the industry they work in and need to be trained. It makes it very difficult for industry players to raise real issues and have solutions."