Top local mobile value added service (VAS) providers who constitute the Wireless Applications Services Providers Association of Ghana (WASPAG) have suspended all their services on Airtel citing unfair revenue share.
Director of Regulatory and Corporate Affairs for WASPAG, Conrad Nyuur told Adom News that, the mobile network provider, like all other telcos, have over the years been imposing unfair revenue share arrangements on VAS players but this time round “they went too far”.
He explained that Airtel is one of the telcos that keeps 70% of revenue generated by services of VAS providers and gives 30% to the VAS providers, who in turn share their portion with content owners and App developers.
“That revenue share arrangement is bad enough, but just this year they wrote to us and said they will now keep 80% and give us 20% but we resisted and they reviewed it to 75% to 25%, but we still insist it is unfair,” he said.
Nyuur said they therefore gave Airtel one month notice to reverse the decision and that one month ended on March 16, 2016, but they have still not heard anything from Airtel so they have suspended all their services on Airtel until they reserve the decision.
By this action, all premium-rated and subscribed services such as all SMS-based services, caller ring back tone (CRBT), MMS or WAP content services and even some voice services have all been cancelled on the mobile network operator.
This means customers who subscribe to those services, some of which are essential, would no longer enjoy the services until Airtel reaches a compromise with their local VAS partners.
Nyuur noted that this is not the first time VAS players have had to boycott Airtel, saying that in the first instance, Airtel and Tigo failed to pay that exact amount due VAS players as reflected in mutually reconciled financial statement.
“They insisted on paying what they unilaterally collated and we lost money because we had then paid our content providers based on what the reconciled statement said,” he lamented.
He said initially the local VAS players had a 50-50 revenue share arrangement with Airtel but they kept scrapping off part of the share of VAS players every year and claiming it is based on orders from their headquarters in India.
Nyuur said “to add insult to injury”, the network even imposed their Indian-based sister company called ComViva on the local VAS players to play middle man for CRBT services.
“ComViva is nothing but a content provider like us but Airtel forced us to give our content to them in India and then they place it on the Airtel network in Ghana and that has reduced our share of the revenue from CRBT to 11% and not 30% as agreed,” he said.
He said WASPAG is particularly surprised at Airtel because, in India where it is headquartered, it gives VAS players up to 70% of the VAS revenue, but it has decided to shortchange VAS players in Ghana.
“The protest to Airtel’s imposition of unfair revenue share arrangement was necessary because we have endured that unfair cycle for years, where one telco scoops some of our revenue off and once they succeed the other telcos follow and we keep losing,” he noted.
Nyuur said WASPAG is very worried that so far, the telecoms industry regulator, National Communications Authority (NCA) is not providing any real protection for VAS players after licensing special number resources to them at a fee.
He said the last time VAS players took an issue regarding Airtel to NCA, the regulator said it could not interfere in commercial arrangements between two private entities, “but when we suspended our services the NCA said we should restore the services to customers while we negotiate with Airtel.
“We feel that was double standards on the part of the NCA because our commercial arrangement with telcos is always about the customer so why would NCA stay off the arrangement which has ramifications for the customer,” he asked.
Meanwhile, since the WASPAG members suspended their services, Airtel is said to have started feeling the pinch so its officials have called WASPAG for a meeting later today to discuss the way forward, after ignoring the VAS providers all this while.
Airtel officials reached on the matter confirmed they are aware of the issue but declined comment until after negotiating with the VAS players.
But until then, all VAS services provided by WASPAG members to Airtel customers remain suspended.
WASPAG represents over 20 top VAS providers in the country, and they include MobileContent, SMSGH, TXTGhana, Rancard and many others.