Friday, October 16, 2015

The phones they are a-changing

When I arrived in Japan in the early 1990's, the monopoly national phone carrier, NTT, kindly charged me $700 for a phone number. Just the phone number mind you, installing the line cost me another $150 and then I had to buy the phone itself. And then of course I could barely afford to use it with international calls cost around $4 per minute. Postcards became my default means of communicating back home.

Without recognising the irony, my colleagues pointed out (after I'd stopped ranting about the costs) that I'd be able to recover the $700 (or most of it) when I left Japan at the end of my secondment. None of them seemed to realise that they'd never be seeing their own money again, being Japanese, they were unlikely to be leaving. And still today, new arrivals are required to hand over this "bond" for the simple benefit of a land-line phone number.

Things started to change in on 17 January, 1995 when an M6.9 earthquake devastated the city of Kobe in western Japan and, at 5.46am, 300,000 reinforced concrete telephone polls fell over. Communications were out all over the city and the few with mobile phones would leave them on the street with a collection dish so people could make their calls. And today the market has taken the hint, NTT still charges $700 for a number, but it's becoming harder and harder to find anyone who has a home phone anymore. The mobile has taken over. And Skype of course.

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