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Internet in Japan

The potential of the Internet in Japan was recognized after 1996, when major companies such as Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) and Fujitsu offered ISP services. In the early 2000s, providers introduced high-speed broadband. The world’s first large-scale mobile Internet service, iMode, was pioneered in 1999 by the nation’s largest mobile carrier, NTT DoCoMo.[1]


  • Internet users: 100.7 million users, 4th in the world; 79.1% of the population, 33rd in the world (2012).[2]
  • Household penetration: 86% (2011).[1]
  • Business penetration: 99% for businesses with over 100 employees (2011).[1]
  • Fixed broadband: 35.6 million subscriptions, 3rd in the world; 27.9% of population, 25th in the world (2012).[3]
  • Mobile broadband: 144.1 million subscriptions, 3rd in the world; 113.1% of population, 2nd in the world (2012).[4]
  • Internet hosts: 64.5 million, 2nd in the world (2012).[5]


Japan’s Internet industry is characterized by voluntary self-regulation. There is no independent regulatory commission in Japan. The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) oversees the telecommunications, Internet, and broadcast sectors. The government and especially the MIC, takes a hands-off approach, while law enforcement agencies tend to push for stronger official regulation. Non-governmental, non-profit organizations supported by for-profit companies in the sector have been formed to self-regulate the industry. These include the Content Evaluation and Monitoring Association for mobile platforms and the Internet Content Safety Association, which manages blocking of child pornography online.[1]

The 2001 Provider Liability Limitation Act directed ISPs to establish a self-regulatory framework to govern take-down requests involving illegal or objectionable content, defamation, privacy violations, and copyright infringement. Industry associations produced guidelines where anyone can report material that infringes directly on their personal rights to the service provider, either to have it removed or to find out who posted it. No third party can do so. The provider notifies the individual who posted the content, and either fulfills the request with their permission or removes the content without the authors’ approval if they fail to respond within two weeks. If the poster refuses permission, the service provider is authorized to assess the complaint for themselves, and comply if they believe it is legitimate.[1]

NTT, formerly a state monopoly, was privatized in 1985 and reorganized in 1999 under a law promoting functional separation between the company’s mobile, fixed-line, and Internet services. Asymmetric regulation, with stricter rules for carriers with higher market share, helped to diversify the industry. However, while the market is open, the NTT group remains dominant. No major foreign firms have successfully entered the market, with the exception of smartphones by Apple and Samsung.[1]


In Japan, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone planned a step-up process from dialup 56 kbit/s ISDN 64 kbit/s, to FTTH. Under this plan, NTT had been selling ISDN products primarily toward home users while corporate customers sometimes skipped ISDN entirely and immediately upgraded to the still-expensive FTTH service. In the late 1990s, Cable Television operators began offering their own Cable broadband products, but relatively high initial installation costs and cheaper alternatives limited its spread.

ADSL services were started by a venture company, Tokyo Metallic in 1999. After this NTT started and some other companies followed. In 2001, SoftBank started a 12 Mbit/s ADSL service. It was a shocking event, because the price was around only 3000 yen (30US$), which was half the cost of other companies. This, coupled with aggressive marketing campaigns led to their capturing of large shares of the market. Competitors and Softbank each dropped prices in a price war and repeatedly readied higher speed services to entice customers (12 Mbit/s/s 24 Mbit/s/s, 50 Mbit/s). In 2004, Japan had the best cost to performance ADSL service in the world (50 Mbit/s, 35US$) which it held on to in the successive years.

At the same time, NTT and electric power companies expanded FTTH areas. In most urban areas, people can use FTTH (100 Mbit/s, 50US$), but ADSL is still mainstream. However, large discounts and free installation have boosted FTTH adoption. Many new apartments are built to accommodate this service with little or no wiring. In 2005, Kansai Electric Power launched a 1 Gbit/s FTTH service at 8700yen (90US$).

In September 2000, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (Japan) (communications ministry) forced Nippon Telegraph and Telephone, the incumbent operator, to unbundle its copper local loop. The price was fixed considering the line costs were covered by Voice Telephony. Alternative operators could only support incremental costs linked with newly offered functions. In the fiscal year of 2004, partial unbundling rates were 120¥ per month and 1,300¥ per month for total unbundling.

In 2000, rules for operators co-location inside NTT facilities and line delivery terms were established. In 2001, NTT were required to unbundle their interconnection optical fiber links between exchange points. Finally, It was forbidden for NTT East & NTT West to offer internet access services.

Softbank, a major Nippon ISP, launched its DSL service in 2001 "Yahoo! Broadband" and massively invested in DSL technology to become the largest DSL operator by 2003 before the incumbent.

In 2004, 52.1% of households had internet access, with more than half of these using broadband.

In March 2005, DSL had more than 13.6 million customers. The concurrence of FTTH was stronger and stronger, with the arrival of operators like TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company), allied to KDDI and NTT. Three million customers were wired with FTTH in March 2005 and it could supplant DSL in 2007 according to Yano Research

The Japanese model of optical fiber deployment is difficult to compare to other markets. The last kilometre is often done on Lattice Towers, shared between operators, even cable operators. This distribution technique reduces the vulnerability to earthquakes and lowers costs dramatically.

The unique problem facing Japan's broadband situation is due to the popularity of high-speed FTTH. Operators struggle to maintain enough bandwidth to allow maximum usage of the service by customers. Even the largest operators have capacities in the region of tens of gigabits while customers with 1 gigabit FTTH services (or higher) may number in the thousands. This problem is further compounded by limits caused by internal router bandwidth. Estimates of traffic based on data collected in May 2007 by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications set total network usage at approximately 720 Gbit/s combined. The report further states that by May 2008, total traffic will exceed 1 Tbit/s.

Internet censorship and surveillance

Japanese law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government respects these rights in practice. These freedoms extend to speech and expression on the Internet. An effective judiciary and a functioning democratic political system combine to ensure these rights. There are no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitors e-mail or Internet activities. Individuals and groups engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail.[6] Freedom House's Freedom in the World 2011 reports that "Internet access is not restricted" in Japan,[7] while their Freedom on the Net 2013 reports Japan's "Internet freedom status" as "free".[8]

  • Legislation criminalizing the use of the Internet for child pornography and the solicitation of sex from minors was passed in 2003.[9]
  • Speech was limited for twelve days before the December 2012 election under a law banning campaigning online. The legislature overturned the law in April 2013, but kept restrictions on campaign e-mail.[8]
  • Amendments to the copyright law in 2012 criminalized intentionally downloading pirated content. There were calls for civil rather than criminal penalties in such cases.[8]
  • Anti-Korean and anti-Chinese hate speech proliferated online in 2012 and 2013 amid real-world territorial disputes.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Japan", Freedom on the Net 2013, Freedom House. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  2. ^ "Percentage of Individuals using the Internet 2000-2012", International Telecommunications Union (Geneva), June 2013, retrieved 22 June 2013
  3. ^ "Fixed (wired)-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants 2012", Dynamic Report, ITU ITC EYE, International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved on 29 June 2013.
  4. ^ "Active mobile-broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants 2012", Dynamic Report, ITU ITC EYE, International Telecommunication Union. Retrieved on 29 June 2013.
  5. ^ "Japan Communications", World Factbook, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  6. ^ "2010 Human Rights Report: Japan", Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, 8 April 2011
  7. ^ "Country report for Japan", Freedom in the World 2011, Freedom House, 2011 (covering events in 2010)
  8. ^ a b c d "Freedom on the Net 2013", Freedom House, 3 October 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Japan's Lolita merchants feel the heat", William Sparrow, Asia Times Online, 23 February 2008

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