Japan's communications ministry is considering loosening rules requiring the two local phone carrier units of NTT to install pay phones, in an effort to reduce deficits in their pay-phone businesses, sources said.
If the rules are loosened, the disappearance of pay phones has a chance of speeding up, or possibly causing difficulties for those who do not own mobile or hampering efforts to make calls in times of disasters, the source said.
Currently, one pay phone must be installed every roughly 500-sqm area in densely populated districts under the enforcement rules of the Telecommunications Business Law.
As a result, the two companies have 109,000 pay phones under the obligation and the number hasn't changed in the past decade.
Meanwhile, the number of pay phones installed in the country outside the framework of the obligation dropped from about 800,000 in 1995 to some 400,000 10 years later.
The ministry plans to finalize its stance by March 2009, the sources said.
The ministry's move comes amid the backdrop of mounting deficits in the pay-phone businesses run by NTT East, which handles the eastern half of Japan, and NTT West, which handles the country's western half.
The number of calls initiated by pay phones in 2005 was 590 million, down 92% from 7.14 billion calls in 1995, due largely to growing mobile phone use .
NTT East posted an operating loss of 2.8 billion yen ($24 million) in the pay-phone business in fiscal 2004, while NTT West saw a deficit of 2.1 billion yen ($18 million) in the same year.