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Prevent Disruptions by Strengthening Telecom Regulations in Ordinary Times

There have been many telecommunications failures that caused difficulties in using mobile phones and the internet. The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry should strengthen monitoring and regulations to prevent further disruptions.

When a system failure at KDDI Corp. affected more than 30 million customers last summer, it took 86 hours for the company to fully restore services. The glitch made it difficult for emergency calls to be answered by police and fire departments, and also caused disruptions in deliveries and various other services.

In the wake of the incident, the ministry issued requests to telecom companies to conduct emergency inspections. Even so, system glitches have continued to be reported since then.

Following KDDI, Rakuten Mobile Inc., NTT Docomo Inc. and NTT West Corp. are among the carriers that have also been hit by telecommunications failures deemed “serious accidents” as defined by the Telecommunications Business Law, according to the ministry.

On April 3, system failures occurred at NTT East Corp. and NTT West, causing brief disruptions in services such as internet access and telephone calls using optical fiber lines.

It cannot be overlooked that there have been many major disruptions in telecommunications, a form of infrastructure indispensable for phone calls, emails and various other services. These failures were triggered by human error and equipment malfunctions, according to the ministry. The glitches could have been prevented if the carriers had carefully checked work procedures and ensured thorough system maintenance in advance.

So far, the ministry has imposed administrative guidance or taken other action only after incidents were reported. However, this approach has not helped prevent additional failures from occurring. This is why the ministry will change its approach to one of strengthening screenings of major telecom companies in ordinary times, before any glitch happens.

The new approach will be applied to NTT Docomo, KDDI, NTT East, NTT West and three other carriers. An external audit system will be introduced, in which the companies’ management and others will be required to conduct annual inspections covering such issues as rules on equipment maintenance and plans for personnel and funds to address potential glitches. Reports on these self-checks will be evaluated by the ministry and other entities.

The ministry is also considering requiring the operators to conduct training sessions on how to restore their networks following a glitch and to compile measures on how to prevent human error.

Companies in the fields of electricity, gas and other forms of infrastructure are already required to conduct self-inspections and go through regular screenings by the government. It is only natural to introduce a similar supervision system for telecommunications, given its increasingly important role as part of infrastructure.

It is hoped that the new framework will be made effective by examining such issues as how corporate governance should tackle challenges.

It is also essential to make preparations to minimize impacts in the event that a telecommunications failure does occur.

Efforts must be accelerated, for example, for the introduction of emergency roaming, which allows mobile phone customers to use the networks of carriers to which they do not subscribe. A system should also be established to make public Wi-Fi services available for free at train stations, commercial facilities and elsewhere.

Hopefully, the ministry and the telecom companies will work together to accelerate efforts for renovating necessary equipment and compiling relevant rules.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 8, 2023)