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Japan gov't eyes lower or no fees to switch mobile carrier with same number

File photo taken Nov. 7, 2018, in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward shows the logos of Japan's three major mobile phone companies -- NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp., the operator of "au" services, and SoftBank Corp. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- The government on Thursday unveiled a plan to encourage users to switch mobile carriers more easily without changing their current numbers, proposing that operators charge no fees if applications are made online.

    The plan is also designed to fuel competition among mobile operators in a market where the dominance of only a few major players has made it difficult for newcomers offering lower fees to penetrate.

    The proposed scheme will reduce fees when people seek to change mobile carriers while keeping their current phone numbers at shops or by phone to 1,000 yen from the current 3,000 yen, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

    But no fees will be charged if the application process is completed online, according to the plan, an outline of which was presented to a meeting Thursday of a panel of experts on the issue.

    The government also wants to make such online applications possible 24 hours a day, it said.

    The panel broadly agreed on the plan, with the ministry aiming to approve it possibly in the fall and revise guidelines for mobile carriers as early as this year.

    It remains to be seen whether the proposed change will serve as an incentive for consumers to switch mobile carriers, as complicated steps are also seen as a bottleneck to greater use of what is known as Mobile Number Portability that began in 2006.

    At present, a user wishing to switch mobile carrier needs to have a special number issued by the current provider, which will charge 3,000 yen. An application form needs to be filled out for a different carrier before a SIM card that includes necessary information is provided.

    The number of people using the same number system has not grown in recent years. In fiscal 2018, it stood at around 5.06 million, about 4 percent of all contracts, but it fell to 4.33 million in fiscal 2019, according to government data.

    The government has been stepping up calls for mobile carriers to reduce fees while seeking to encourage users to switch providers more freely. At present, NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Corp. hold a roughly 90 percent market share in Japan.

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