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Japan after the earthquake and tsunami
Update on the restoration of telecommunication and broadcasting services*
Photo credit: AFP/JIJI PRESS
Charges for making public telephone calls have been suspended; and approximately 1500 new public telephones have been specially installed

On 12 July 2011, almost three months after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and giant tsunami struck eastern Japan, the number of deaths stood at 15 555, and 5344 people were still missing. The need for communication is as great as ever. Much of the damaged telecommunications infrastructure has been restored, largely through the concerted efforts of the government and telecommunication carriers, but work has been hampered in certain areas because damaged roads and tunnels have made it difficult to get access.

This update on telecommunication and broadcast infrastructure tracks efforts to restore disrupted services, and how much remains to be done. It also notes just a few examples of the hundreds of gestures of support by the private sector.

Needless to say, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is making every effort to overcome the devastation and the difficulties faced by the victims of the disaster, acting with the local authorities and supported by other public sector institutions. Again, just a few examples are given here of the many activities undertaken.

Status of telecommunications infrastructure

By the end of April, services had been restored at all disrupted fixed-line telephone exchanges operated by NTT East except in the restricted zone around the Fukushima nuclear power plant, and in other areas where damage to roads and tunnels makes it physically impossible to carry out restoration work. Approximately 12 000 fixed-line services (subscriber lines and the integrated services digital network — ISDN) are still out of service (as of 14 July 2011), mainly in coastal regions. In all, there are about three million telephone line subscriptions in the Tohoku region, and an estimated one million lines were disrupted by the disaster. Around 2300 fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) subscriber lines of FLET’S Hikari were disrupted, mainly in coastal regions.

By the end of April, except in a few areas, mobile phone coverage was back to pre-earthquake levels. The four carriers (NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank Mobile and eMobile) have a combined total of around 70 000 base stations in the Tohoku and Kanto regions, and the disaster put approximately 14 800 of them out of service. All of eMobile’s base stations are operational. But around 329 base stations of the other operators are still out of service as follows: 241 for NTT DoCoMo, 25 for KDDI (au) and 63 for Softbank Mobile (as of 14 July 2011).

Status of broadcast infrastructure

By 14 July, only one of the 56 television relay stations in Miyagi prefecture remained out of operation. The number of affected households is relatively low.

Within the 20-km restricted zone around the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, one radio relay station (national public broadcaster NHK’s Futaba medium-wave 1 repeater station in Tomioka-machi, Futaba-gun) is out of operation. The number of television relay stations out of operation peaked at 120 after the disaster, in an area extending across Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Chiba, Kanagawa and Nagano prefectures.

Photo credit: MIC/Japan

Only two radio relay stations went out of operation: one in Iwate prefecture and one in Fukushima prefecture. Operations have since been restored at both of these radio relay stations, and all AM and FM radio broadcasts are now operating as normal.

Assistance from the international community

Message from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications of Japan

At this time of great crisis in Japan, we have received deeply-appreciated messages of condolence and assistance from ITU and other international organizations, as well as from many countries around the world.

ITU was one of the first organizations to offer practical assistance to Japan following the earthquake and tsunami disaster of 11 March 2011. That kind offer was immediately taken up, and ITU provided 153 units of satellite telecommunication equipment free of charge to Japan, which the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications received by 22 March. The Ministry immediately distributed these units to prefectural and local governments in the affected areas. The satellite telecommunication equipment is being used for relief and reconstruction activities, as well as to provide emergency humanitarian assistance.

At the same time, ITU called on its members to assist Japan. In response to that request, financial support was received via ITU from the governments of Australia, Canada and China, as well as from the Union’s industry members. We gratefully acknowledge this financial support.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr Hamadoun I. Touré, Secretary-General of ITU, who offered a deeply-appreciated message of condolence and assistance to Japan in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, as well as ITU staff, and all ITU members who have provided such wonderful support to us.

On behalf of the Government of Japan and the Japanese people, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications would like to express our deepest gratitude for such generous assistance from all around the world.


Relief efforts

In response to requests from local governments in areas affected by the disaster, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has supplied 353 satellite phone units and 1770 emergency-use portable communication facilities, including multi-channel access (MCA) and convenience radio, at no cost. At the request of NHK, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications approved exemption from payment of receiver fees. No reminders or demands for unpaid spectrum fees are being sent to licensees living in the affected areas. A total of 10 000 portable radios have been distributed to regions affected by the disaster.

Emergency relief teams from overseas have been granted temporary licences for radio transmission systems. In response to requests from 24 local governments in the affected areas, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has also permitted the temporary establishment of disaster radio stations broadcasting on the FM band.

Telecommunication carriers have supplied 1151 units of mobile communication equipment and 938 satellite phone units at no cost. More than 100 portable power generators and 22 mobile base station trucks have also been provided. Charges for making public telephone calls have been suspended; and approximately 1500 new public telephones have been specially installed. Various dedicated services have been set up as part of the disaster relief effort, including a phone message service to help people get in contact with each other and a broadband message board. Free Internet connections have been set up at evacuation centres. Basic telephone rates have been reduced or waived altogether, and payment deadlines have been extended.

In cooperation with various manufacturers, NHK has installed 750 televisions and 760 radios in evacuation centres. Manufacturers, including Panasonic and Sony, have already supplied over 40 000 radios.

Information sharing

The Nationwide Evacuee Data System registers details and addresses of evacuees, while the e-government portal e-Gov provides computer and mobile phone links (in Japanese and in other languages) to national and local government services. The Tohoku and Pacific Ocean Earthquake Learning Support Portal for Students tracks items required by students and the available relief supplies. The YouTube Personal Message Channel, set up with assistance from TBS Television and other operators, provides local information on the location of evacuation centres and emergency kitchens. NTT East and West, NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank Mobile, Google, NTT Resonant and others are providing emergency message board services. Google has also set up Person Finder, a register and search service for confirming the safety of loved ones. The Amazon Web Service Japan User Group provides information on the state of medical facilities, basic utilities, and the trajectories of radioactive materials.

Future disaster preparedness

In April, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications set up a Task Force to examine ways of securing communication methods in the event of a major natural disaster or other emergency. The Task Force will examine, in particular, how to address congestion in communications infrastructure during emergencies, and how to secure communication methods when base stations and relay stations are damaged. Learning from the experiences of the recent disaster, the Task Force will consider the future of network infrastructure and how to make better use of the Internet.

* This article is based on contribution from the International Policy Division, Global ICT Strategy Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.


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