Japan telco SoftBank bows to government pressure with fee cuts

TOKYO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - Japanese wireless carrier SoftBank Corp on Tuesday said it will lower its mobile data fees, joining bigger rival NTT Docomo Inc following government calls to cut prices to spur consumer spending elsewhere in the economy.

Japan’s third-biggest mobile phone network operator by subscribers said it will charge 2,980 yen ($29) for 20 gigabytes of data per month in a plan set to launch in March.

The plan will be offered online only and use “SoftBank on Line” branding. Line Corp is merging with SoftBank’s internet business Z Holdings Corp.

The announcement, which follows pressure from Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to reduce fees, marks a shift from offering low-price plans on its budget Ymobile brand while pushing consumers seeking the latest phones or more data onto expensive tariffs.

SoftBank Group Corp has slashed its shareholding to 40% of the wireless carrier and investors are fearful of the price competition’s impact on the group’s operating margin, which was 19% in the year ended March.

SoftBank Corp’s shares are languishing below the 1,500 yen price achieved in its blockbuster December 2018 initial public offering, in contrast to shares in SoftBank Group whose shares are trading near two-decade highs.

$1 = 103.2900 yen Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Christopher Cushing