• Bloomberg


The government plans to step up pressure on the country’s largest mobile-phone carriers to offer cheaper plans as surging profits show they have room to reduce costs for customers, an official at the communications ministry said.

Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications Sanae Takaichi may make a new round of requests to carriers, according to the official, who asked not to be named because the plans have not been announced. If successful, any cuts would build on previous recommendations by a panel the government formed to study lower fees, the official said.

A ministry spokesman declined to comment.

The move would come as previous efforts resulted in the three largest mobile-phone operators — NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Group Corp. — offering reduced-price plans that apply to a limited number of users. Meanwhile, carriers in the $125-billion-plus market embraced the panel’s recommendation to reduce handset subsidies, which bolstered their profits by lowering costs.

The government’s focus now will be to widen the variety of lower-cost plans to benefit more users, the official said. For example, the request would include shortening the number of years required for users to qualify for pricing plans geared toward “long-term” customers, according to the official.

Docomo has said it will introduce low-rate pricing plans for long-term users in June, which apply to users who have been subscribing for more than four years, and maximum discounts of ¥2,500 ($23) a month to users who have been customers for more than 15 years. KDDI and SoftBank are also considering offering new plans to reduce user costs.

“We will consider price adjustments if the ministry requests more,” Docomo spokeswoman Hiroko Shimoyama said by phone Monday. “We will continue to amend handset prices, and also will adjust phone-bill plans one by one.”

Representatives at KDDI and SoftBank said their carriers would consider new requests for price cuts from the ministry if they are made.

While the ministry does not directly regulate pricing, mobile-phone operators have a track record of complying with the government’s requests on pricing.

Meanwhile, profits in the industry are booming. Docomo, which has about 70 million subscribers, forecasts net income will surge 17 percent in the year started April 1 to the highest in more than a decade. KDDI has said it expects net income to increase 9.2 percent to a record. SoftBank did not provide earnings forecasts for the current fiscal year, after reporting a 7.5 percent increase in profit at its domestic telecommunications business for the 12 months ended March.

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