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Internet & Commmunications in Costa Rica. Peace or War?

August 14th, 2009

leapFor a long time,  the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE and pronounced EEEE-SAY) has enjoyed a monopoly on a wide variety of services. The two biggies are communications (cell and home phone service) and Internet connectivity. The end began with the passage and ratification of the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) then last year the Ley General de Telecommunicaciones broke monopoly on telephone and internet services in Costa Rica enjoyed by ICE.

A lot of people think that now there will be wholesale changes now that ICE will face competition.  I am not so sure… at least in the short term.  Let’s examine what has been happening. If this topic interests you, read on!

First,  ICE states that it will close or at least restructure Radiográfica Costarricense  (RACSA), its 245 employees, and move all those  Internet customers from Racsa, its wholly owned subsidiary, to its own network, affecting maybe  80.000 users.  RACSA customers would therefore be serviced by ICE and the rates would be unified.  Sound easy?  Nothing is so easy in Costa Rica.  Two issues here… and this gets a little screwy, so take notes!  Remember that RACSA, while owned by ICE, runs its own show.  RACSA customer service and in fact their overall service has been improving over the past several years  to the point where I now tell people they are quite good! RACSA also sells only Internet services (high speed and modem) but not communications.

ICE, however, is renowned for just terrible customer service and doing everything even remotely possible to inconvenience the customer base.  This is something that should not surprise anyone as most monopolies never have to compete and therefore do not have to deal with the concept of making the customer happy.   Further, the technicians at RACSA are clearly more knowledgeable, or perhaps they are more accessible.  Hard to tell… but either way, they solve issues whereas ICE techs often blame the problem on you or deny there is a problem.

OK… so with the existing structure, RACSA can re-sell Internet  service (i.e. wholesale it) and they do.  Two of their customers are Cabletica and Amnet both distributors of cable TV services. Both of those companies sell cable TV with optional Internet (cable modem Internet).  You can buy cable TV with no Internet connectivity, but you can not buy Internet service from them without buying the cable TV service as well.

Now when ICE restructures RACSA, Amnet and CableTica customers will be moved to ICE.  ICE though, does not sell cable services so far as I know… so that means if I am getting this correctly,  AMNET and CableTica customers will have to all have new DSL installs, new equipment, etc.  UGH! This will effectively put Amnet and CableTica out of the Internet business.  Why do we (or at least I) care?  Because CableTica has  hands down the best customer services of all the companies in my opinion. Those businesses using cable modem service from either company may therefore have some serious issues ahead of them. But…. now we have this:

THIS week,  Amnet has announced they will cut the umbilical with RACSA and sell Internet services directly.  How?  They must, of course, buy services and connectivity directly from ICE and must also arrange to connect to the two underwater international cables in Parrita and Limon that connect to the Internet backbone.

Sounds simple… huh? Oh, did I forget to mention that Amnet also announced that they will compete with ICE for the cell phone business in Costa Rica?  Amnet was purchased last year by cellular service provider Millicom International Cellular, S.A. .  Gee!  I wonder if ICE is happy about that! I betcha not!

Nothing so far from CableTica.

So why am I writing all this? Well for those of you old enough to remember, once upon a time in the giant country to the North, there was a pretty GOOD communications monopoly called American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Their service was just about as good as you an get anywhere.

Well one day, the mean old US government said, “NO MORE MONOPOLIES”  and broke apart AT&T.  The problem was that AT&T owned all the land, all the infrastructure, all the wiring, all the central offices… well you get the point. Startup company MCI just did not open the doors.  AT&T made life VERY difficult with major issues as regarded setting wholesale rates to providing access to all the above infrastructure. On the surface, they seemed cheerful enough about having the competition… but that was on the surface.  It took years and a zillion law suits and more zillions or dollars before MCI truly entered the US communications market.

ICE has kind made it clear they have no plans to go peacefully into the night…. so I asked myself, “I wonder who in Costa Rica  owns all the land, all the infrastructure, all the wiring, all the central offices, routers, contracts with backbone providers….”.  Things that make you go… hmmmm.

I have no idea how communiations and Internet services in Costa Rica will be affected.  Maybe everyone will just get along and overall, services and customer support will reign supreme with many happy and properous companies each providing these better services at lower prices.  Or not….?  Comment welcome~!


22 Responses to “Internet & Commmunications in Costa Rica. Peace or War?”

  1. Cathey on August 15, 2009 6:37 am

    This has me really concerned. I’m planning on moving to CR summer 2010. I will be making my living from home, via computer. If I don’t have reliable Internet service in CR I’m in serious trouble as far as work goes. I really hope they have this issue solved by next summer or I may have to consider another place to call home.

  2. Jim Gaudet on August 15, 2009 7:33 am

    Ok, being an Amnet customer I can tell you that there is going to be some problems, and there have been already.

    We needed to change the name on our account, so when we did that we we also told that we did not have to deal with RACSA anymore. This seemed pretty simple, but I don’t think it will be.

    Ever since the change, we haven’t had one full day of uninterrupted Internet service. Constant problems. I am not sure what to do.

    Who will have the most reliable Internet? Should I just go with ICE until it boils down? Can I just get net access from RACSA and would they be better?

    Maybe I should just open my open company, I should get in touch with ICE 🙂

  3. steve young on August 15, 2009 8:42 am

    so as a satisfied CableTica customer I will soon be served by ICE? Can I cancel when that happens, sign up with RACSA for internet and someone else for cable/satellite TV?

  4. Jim Gaudet on August 16, 2009 7:06 am

    An update for you. Since the change I have had horrible Internet. My latency is consistently over 300ms, and it shouldn’t be. Then guess what I noticed?

    Amnet was giving me an IP address from Guatamala, and still am, 186.32.34.98…Tried to call them yesterday and was put on hold 3 different times for almost a hour and a half and at the end, I am still here with problems.

    My ? is, can I get ‘net directly from ICE? Will it be 4mb/1mb?

    Thanks,

  5. Tim on August 18, 2009 11:36 am

    I think you missed the point 🙂

    There will BE no RACSA. Please re-read the article to see what Amnet is doing (though perhaps not too well based on comments received) and look for CableTica to do likewise? Time will tell.

  6. Tim on August 18, 2009 11:39 am

    Contact ICE. Maybe get both at the same time. Perhaps not the best time to jump out of the frying pan 🙂

  7. Jason H. on August 19, 2009 3:21 pm

    I live and Work in Perez Zeledon, and would love to have internet service form Cable Tica. My internet service from ICE is terrible it is constantly dropping or going out completely, and it is next to impossible to simply call them on the phone and request a simple reset of the equipment.

    Here is the story after 20 minutes on the phone I finally give up on trying to explain my service problem over the phone. I drive down to my local ICE office explain my problem to 3 different employees that I have indeed followed all of the steps of simply power cycling all of the equipment in my office and it is still not working, and at this point one of the employees finally resets the equipment with a few simple key strokes and my service is working once again.

    I can’t help but wonder what it would be like to have another option in internet service providers, because anything would be better than this.

    Frustrated in P.Z.

  8. Zoe on August 29, 2009 9:25 am

    oh dear it sounds like a disaster, and with all the political maneuvering I doubt that there will be much laying down of cables going on…which is of great concern to me as I am thinking of moving to the mountains near San Ramon in an area that does not have internet cables yet.

    I am worried about being isolated from friends and family around the world and I also need the internet for research, so I am looking for possible alternatives for getting internet connected.

    Does anyone know if there is a portable wireless internet dongle (looks like a usb key) service available in Costa Rica, like the ones available in the uk and australia?

    Or any other suggestions for internet in remote areas?

  9. Luis on September 11, 2009 1:34 pm

    Tim,

    Where is all this info coming from? Is it in the paper there? Can you share your sources?

  10. Cy Bolinger on September 17, 2009 10:23 am

    Question regarding cell phone communication:
    Can anyone tell me what is going on with Costa Rica’s cell phones since last Saturday, September 12? My phone (GSM) has not worked since and there is nothing in English to help, no newspaper articles, nothing. Apparently, over 10 percent-plus of cell phone users in Costa Rica on GSM still have no service. Again, no remedial information is available. I figure the “Real Costa Rica Blog” website will have the answer as it does most everything else. Pura Vida!
    Cy Bolinger

  11. Tim on September 18, 2009 9:56 am

    There were 2 GSM systems up until last Saturday. They were (supposedly) combined. You were supposed to turn OFF and then ON your GSM phone.

    If you did, maybe it worked. 40,000 (at least) did not.

    If you did and yours does not work, you will enjoy a fine trip to ICE where you can wait in line for crummy service.

    TDMA phones work fine of course which is why I rent ONLY TDMA 🙂

    Sorry Cy…. Wish I could give you better news…

  12. Tim on September 18, 2009 10:03 am

    I live here, andI am heavily involved in al facets of telecommunications and the Internet… and yes, it is in the newspapers.

  13. Tim on September 18, 2009 10:15 am

    You can get wireless Internet in San Ramon.

  14. Levi on December 5, 2009 4:51 pm

    I just read this article but it appears that all this was blogged into existence back in September…
    I am now living in vicinity of San Isidro del General, I have all of about 2 months of Costa Rican living under my belt and, like others, I am going to be needing a quality internet connection for my vonage line.
    My question is, are there any updates to this topic since September? Is my cable internet going to suffice for making professional calls to the states via vonage?? I´m a little (okay… a lot) nervous about it after reading this blog.

    Thanks.

  15. Tim on December 6, 2009 9:26 am

    Nothing has materially changed. ICE still has the monopoly and will not have competition until 2011, if then.

    Vonage works VERY badly here, though I have heard of one person (out of 100) who got hi to work OK. I’d suggest SKYPE. Cheaper and far more reliable.

  16. Russell loomis on December 8, 2009 1:19 am

    If you are in San Jose is there a better chance to have a high speed reliable cable internet connection? I am considering moving to Costa Rica and need a solid internet connection to do business. What kind of speeds are offered and do you see more options in the near future? I heard a chinese company won a bid to offer 3G…

    Thank you,

    Russ

  17. Levi on December 10, 2009 3:28 pm

    Thanks for the tip.

  18. Patrick on July 15, 2010 9:32 am

    ICE will now provide interconnection (internet) for three competitors: Dodona S.R.L. (Amnet), Intertel Worldwide (Costa Rican firm) and BBG Global A.G. (Swiss company). Wow! Now that’s what I call opening up your market!

  19. Texas Brown on November 18, 2011 12:30 pm

    Are there any cell phones from the USA that works in CR?

    I plan to retire there (in the San Jose suburbs) as a USAF retiree, and Soc Sec pensioner in the next few months.

  20. Don McCale on April 29, 2016 12:01 pm

    I am moving to your beautiful country on June the 5th. Could you please advise me if I can get American TV cable there? If so with what company. Do I need to bring any electrical stuff to hook it up? Thank you very much in advance for guiding me to the right people to contact . Don McCale satxdon@gmail.com

  21. Tim on May 22, 2016 8:50 am

    North American cable is not available but depending on where you live, you may have options. I hope you are not moving here without first living here.

  22. John on June 1, 2016 11:06 am

    Hello I’m planning to visit Costa Rica in August of 2016. I’m a quadrapalgic and need assistance with my personal care. I’ll be traveling with my girlfriend, but she would need assistance with me. Looking for a home care agency that can provide me with the help. If anyone knows of a place I can call I’d appreciate the help.
    Thank you in advance.

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