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December 12, 2006 10:55 am

Japanese mobile carriers censured

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Japan’s consumer watchdog has criticised the country’s three mobile carriers over misleading advertisements.

The attack by the Fair Trade Commission casts a cloud over the number portability regime, which was ushered in by the telecoms ministry this autumn to give consumers a better deal. Since October 24, mobile users have been able to switch carrier without changing their phone number.

The watchdog has regularly censured food and drug companies in the past for misleading adverts. But it is rare for it to attack an entire industry at the same time.

Softbank was given a warning over its adverts claiming that under a new pricing plan, it would charge nothing extra to customers for mobile calls beyond the package’s flat rate. The commission criticised the fact that the “zero yen” legend was displayed in huge letters, with caveats written in much smaller print at the bottom of the advert.

NTT DoCoMo and KDDI were both given “cautions”, a lower level of censure. DoCoMo was criticised for an advert saying customers subscribing to a family discount service would receive a sharp discount for calls after a month when in reality, the discount kicked in after two months. KDDI was chided for an advert promising “half price for everyone” when in fact new subscribers would have to wait 11 years.

DoCoMo had previously cast rival Softbank as the villain of the number portability battle. Masao Nakamura, DoCoMo’s chief executive, said in October that he was "very frustrated and mad and upset" at Softbank’s tactics.

Softbank said it had already changed its adverts. DoCoMo said that it accepted the commission’s decision “with gravity” while KDDI said it was “planning to consider the best way of explaining our services to customers”.

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