Abe Cabinet Pressures Japan Mobile Carriers to Simplify Pricing

  • Panel meets to discuss ways of lowering mobile phone rates
  • Suga says phone bills take rising portion of household budgets

Japan’s government said prices for mobile phone services lack transparency and fairness with bills taking up a rising share of household budgets.

Users need more control over components of pricing plans, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Monday. His comments echoed those from a meeting the same day of a task force set up by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to look at ways of lowering wireless costs for consumers.

Mobile phone bills have become too high and are a burden on family budgets, Abe said at an economic conference last month. Internal Affairs and Communications Minister Sanae Takaichi said the government will come up with a plan to cut the rates by the end of the year.

“There is a sense among the people that pricing plans do not take into consideration the needs of various users, especially the light users,” Suga said. “The users only get to choose from pre-set pricing plans and the offerings among the top three carriers are the same.”

Last month, Takaichi said there needs to be more rate plans that do not require all-you-can use data and voice, according to a transcript of a Sept. 29 news briefing on the ministry’s website. She also called on carriers to compete more on plan pricing, instead of using discounts on devices to attract users. Takaichi said the task force will also look into making it easier for mobile virtual network operators to enter the competition.

The ministry’s own research showed smartphone users in Tokyo had higher phone bills than their counterparts in Paris, Stockholm and Seoul, according to a report released in July. In one case study the monthly difference was as much as $32.

Shares of NTT Docomo Inc., Japan’s largest mobile-phone carrier by subscribers, KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Group Corp. fell after Abe said in September that mobile phone rates were too high. Rate cuts may lower revenue at SoftBank and KDDI by about 10 billion yen this fiscal year and as much as 45 billion yen at Docomo, according to estimates by Nomura Holdings Inc.

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