Japan, China, S. Korea to discuss lowering roaming fees

Japan, China and South Korea are making arrangements to reduce charges for international roaming, which enables travelers to use their cell phones in other countries, Japan news reports.

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The move is aimed at enhancing convenience for business travelers and tourists from the three countries. According to sources, the nations are expected to agree to begin discussing the plan to lower international roaming fees during a soon-to-be-held meeting in Tokyo, which will be attended by ministers in charge of information and telecommunications affairs.

This will be the first time in seven years that such a meeting will be held, with the last one in 2011. During the meeting, relevant ministers from the three countries are expected to agree to seek to mutually reduce charges for international roaming services offered in their countries, the sources said.

It will also likely be decided that a new panel will be established — tentatively called the council related to information and telecommunications — comprising working-level officials from the three countries.

The benefit of international roaming services is that cell phone users can use their own devices in other countries. However, it also means charges for using the communication lines of cell phone carriers in other countries are added to regular charges.

For example, if NTT Docomo Inc. subscribers make a phone call in China using international roaming, they pay ¥75 per minute, which is almost double the rate of a call in Japan. The data charge for using the internet is ¥980 per day.

The new council will discuss ways to reduce the charges for using communication lines set by cell phone operators in the three countries. After the agreement is reached, the Japanese, Chinese and South Korean governments will ask carriers in each of their countries to lower these charges.

Lower rates for international roaming services are expected to reduce travel expenses for visitors traveling for both business and leisure, giving hope that it will help to boost business activities and increase the number of tourists.

The Japanese government will also likely ask other countries to substantially lower roaming charges. “Ideally, the international roaming service rate should be abolished in the future,” a source close to the government said.

In November, the Japanese and Singaporean governments signed a memorandum on cooperation to lower international roaming charges. Since then, the Japanese government has been encouraging domestic cell phone carriers to lower their rates. The government will refer to this case in negotiations with China and South Korea, according to the sources.

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