Since 2016, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) and the Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) have tried to promote more competition in the mobile market in order to encourage economic growth and promote fairness. In particular, the government agencies have restricted handset subsidies in an effort to lower rates.
The results of these policies have fallen short of expectations. Mobile service prices in Japan have dropped by 10 percent over the past two years, far less than the 25 percent decline in the United States in the same period.
One piece of good news for competition is the impending entry of Rakuten Mobile as the fourth mobile network operator. However, we show in this paper that the restriction on handset subsidies makes it significantly harder for Rakuten to attract customers from the incumbents, since the challenger will be forced to charge customers for the “privilege” of switching to a new network.