The government will set up a study panel next month to ponder steps to enhance competition in the telecom market, Toranosuke Katayama, minister for public management, home affairs, posts and telecommunications, said Tuesday.

“I have instructed (ministry officials) to set up a panel next month and quickly come up with conclusions,” Katayama said at a news conference.

With the panel expected to conclude discussions by the end of the year, the ministry will submit a related bill to revise the Telecommunications Business Law to the next regular Diet session to convene in January, ministry officials said.

Under the current system, telecom firms are divided into two groups: those with their own telecommunication circuits and those without.

While operators in the first group must acquire government permission for entry and withdrawal from the business, a second-category operator can start and stop operations simply by reporting to authorities.

The panel will study the possibility of easing regulations for new entries into first-category services, thereby encouraging small and midsize operators as well as foreign players to enter the market, ministry officials said.

The ministry hopes a move of this kind will lead to a further reduction in telecommunications charges, the officials said.

The first group includes two regional firms belonging to the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. group — NTT East Corp. and NTT West Corp. — as well as KDDI. They are obliged to provide stable services under the law.

DoCoMo looks to Asia

ReutersNTT DoCoMo Inc. said Tuesday it will invest as much in Asian partnerships as it has done in Europe and the United States.

However, any moves within Asia will take time, given the existing regulations in various countries in the region and DoCoMo’s desire to operate in open environments, Senior Executive Vice President Yoshinori Uda told an annual shareholders’ meeting.

“We are a part of Asia,” Uda said. “We have invested 100 billion yen — a relatively small amount — in the region so far, but we want to bring our investments to the same level as the United States or Europe and we are considering various opportunities.”

DoCoMo, the dominant mobile operator, invested 580 billion yen in Europe to buy stakes in KPN Mobile, a unit of Dutch carrier KPN Telecom NV, and British mobile services venture Hutchison 3G U.K. Holdings Ltd.

In the United States, it spent 1.15 trillion yen on a 16 percent stake in AT&T Wireless Group Inc.

That made up the bulk of a 1.8 trillion yen spending spree to buy minority stakes in other mobile carriers planning mobile Net services similar to DoCoMo’s i-mode service.

Almost 25 million users have signed up for i-mode, using it to send and receive short e-mail messages and browse scaled-down Web sites on cellphone screens smaller than business cards.

“But in Asia there are various country regulations on foreign investment, the exchange of capital and telecom regulations,” Uda said. “We must take these into consideration and try to operate in an open environment that makes sense to us, and so it is taking time.” DoCoMo is also hoping its overseas partners will be able to roll out third-generation (3G) networks offering faster Net access on mobile phones, a service the company began last month on a trial basis.

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