Chapter 9: Telecommunications posted by on July 4, 2012
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Telecommunications in Costa Rica is dominated by the state run monopoly phone company, ICE. There are now several new companies providing cellular service, but their coverage outside the Central Valley is still limited, although they are adding new territory all the time.


However, the competition has been good for the customer, because, now that ICE has to compete in the market, they finally are beginning to understand what the word customer service means.


For example, whereas before it was not possible to get pre-paid cell service, now, suddenly, it is available widely. What this means is that no longer do you have to be a citizen or a resident to get cell phone service. The service is now open to all, including tourists, and this is preventing the abuses of the past where perpetual tourists had to pay someone an outrageous fee to “buy” their line, and shortly thereafter they discovered that “their” phone service was cut off as the owner of the line sold it to someone else.


And, there was no legal recourse, since ICE didn’t recognize the sale of these lines.


Some expats even went to the lengths of forming a corporation just to get phone service.


So, with the advent of pre-paid service, these abuses of the past no longer have to be endure. One can simply go into a cell phone store, pick out their phone, and walk out with it being connected! That may sound “normal” to most expats, but just ask those people who spent a year or more on a waiting list.


Similarly, internet service has also opened up. In the past, your only two choices were ICE nd RACSA, and since RACSA is a wholly owned subsidiary of ICE, that was really no choice at all.


However, unlike ICE which has adapted well to the changes, RACSA is now close to bankruptcy because they haven’t adopted to the new customer is king culture that competition has brought in. You can now connect to the internet through your cell phone, which means that service is now available almost throughout the country. There is also WIMAX. Of course, there are still the traditional hook ups through the phone or cable company, but speeds have increased and prices have dropped, so once again, competition has brought this country out of the stone age in telecommunications.


ICE still provides all land line service in Costa Rica, plus also provides internet service throughout the country via ADSL, although it is not available in all areas, so if you need ADSL or a cable connection, check first before you rent or buy a place because there are still some areas where you may have a very rude awakening and only have wireless service available, and even that may still not be available in some areas.


While telephone costs are low, this state monopoly has problems with efficiency and corruption. In the recent past, there was an investigation into a former president’s role in awarding a cellular contract to Alcatel, which because of the scandal has been banned from further contacts with ICE. Insiders at ICE have also been accused in the scandal.


ICE will only sell land lines to residents and citizens of Costa Rica. If a person living here on a tourist visa only wants to get a line, he or she will either have to have someone else get the line in their name, which is not recommended because that person can take the line back anytime they want and there is nothing you can do about it. This problem happened to me before I became a resident, and it was a very frustrating experience indeed. There are, in fact, certain crooks who make a little business of this practice.


They will even go so far as to have a lawyer notarize the sale of the line to you. While this is legal, ICE won’t recognize the sale, so it is an exercise in futility. And to sue the person for doing this takes way too much time and expense to be worth it. In my case, I had the line for only about 2 months before the crook sold it to someone else, and I suddenly found one day that my phone was no longer working. Frantic calls to the seller proved to be fruitless, so I lost all of the money I had spent on the line.


The only other way to get a phone line without being a resident or citizen is to buy a Costa Rican corporation, and then have the corporation [SA] get the line in its name. While this is a more expensive and cumbersome process, it is the only way someone here on a tourist visa can get a land line. And, if you decide to leave the country, you should be able to easily sell the package to someone else.


I have lawyers who can assist you in this process, and can also give you an update as to whether ICE has any cellular lines available at this time, as well as the status of how the corporation needs to apply. Please contact us at our customer service email address for more information.


Internet Service


I have been here for 17 years, and it is only in the past 5 years or so that internet service has become reasonably usable here.


When I got here, the only thing available was one of the worst dial up connections in the world! Direct connections DID exist, but they were so expensive that only a very large company could afford them. And the bandwidth offered was pitiful. A 256 kbps connection back then cost around $6,000.00/ month and you had to wait a long time to get it installed. And all internet connection went through satellite hook ups.


The problems with the dial up connections were constant and outrageous, but, as the only connection to the outside world at that time, it was either that or nothing, because state owned monopoly RACSA was the only legal provider of internet service back then.


RACSA is a subsidiary of ICE, and now they both provide internet hookups. Don’t ask me why the company is competing with itself, many times the actions of government bureaucrats are totally incomprehensible to real people.


Now, RACSA provides most of the dial up service. You can get a flat rate residential account, a regular account, or use the open 900 number account that charges the internet useage to your phone bill in an informal way. Of course, the 900 number service is the more expensive of the 3.


RACSA is also still almost the only provider of cable modem internet service. Amnet provides their own service independent of RACSA, but reports are that in some areas the service is not good, and customer service is almost non existent. But hey, they are still kind f a monopoly in their coverage areas, so I guess they feel entitled to provide indifferent customer “service.”


Reports are that cable Tica is a bit better, but they are still a joint venture between the cable company and RACSA, meaning you will get two bills and have to pay two separate companies for the same connection. Cablevision reportedly also offers internet in some areas under the same arrangement with RACSA, but scattered reports are that this arrangement still works better at times than AMNET. You need to check with the respective cable company that covers your area to see if it is available where you live, because it doesn’t cover all areas with cable TV and internet.


RACSA still offers its regular direct internet connections, but these are falling more and more into disuse and are usually replaced by cable modem connections which are generally less expensive and better. ICE also provides direct connection service.


Prices have continued to fall as bandwidth has increased, so at least Costa Rica has now entered the modern world of internet connectivity, at least in the Central Valley. In outlying areas, service is often not available, and where it is, it is generally only the ADSL service.


Internet Phone Directory


ICE now offers an internet based directory listing service.


You can go there by clicking here

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