Web usage skyrockets in Japan

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TOKYO--The boom in the number of wireless Web users in Japan pushed up the total number of people accessing the Internet by 60% in 1999 to hit 27 million, Japan's Post & Telecommunications Ministry said June 20.

The No. 1 access point for the Web in Japan was through the "i-mode" service for cellular phones provided by Japan's largest mobile telecom carrier, NTT Docomo. The total number of people accessing the Web through their cell phones and other wireless means increased by 3.6 million in 1999 and now accounts for more than one third of all Net users, the ministry says.

During the next five years, the ministry thinks the number of Net users will almost triple to hit 76.7 million, which would put Japan on par with the U.S. terms of per capita Internet use.

The report estimates Japan's e-commerce market was worth $3.3 billion in 1999 and they expect that number to increase 20-fold by 2005.

Pressure from the U.S. could actually lead to more people accessing the Net in Japan. Washington is pushing former state monopoly Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. (NTT), which controls more than 90% of local lines, to drop its access rate in order to spur Internet usage.

In a heated trade dispute, Washington is arguing that the local access rates charged by the former state monopoly are the highest in the industrialized world and need to be lowered to a fair market price.

A cut in the rates would significantly enhance Internet use in Japan because it would lead to dramatic reductions in local phone fees.

Copyright June 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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