The Arenal Area Magazine

Sala IV orders quicker action on awarding cell concessions


The Sala IV constitutional court has given public officials three months to award concessions for cell telephone frequencies.

The decision came as a surprise Tuesday because there had been no report that anyone had asked the high court to rule.

Specifically the Sala IV ordered the Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones, the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones and the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad to coordinate their efforts so that the award of cell telephone concessions would take place in three months.

Some six companies are seeking frequencies on which their calls could travel. The Sala IV said that the lapse of time has been excessive in preparing the auction and that the rights of consumers were being jeopardized. Companies hoped to be offering service by September.

The specifications for bids have been public for some time. The spectrum auction is only open to potential bidders who can show that they are experienced in the operation of new networks in countries like Costa Rica.

Companies will have the chance to bid on one of three packages of spectrum. Concessions one and two each consist
of 15 MHz in the 1800 MHz frequency and 15 MHz in the 1.9/2.1 GHz range, with uplink and downlink for a total of 60 MHz.

Concession three has three frequency bands, with 5 MHz in the 850 MHz range, 15 MHz in the 1800 MHz spectrum, and 10 MHz of 1.9/2.1.

The concession offers will be the end of a long road that began in 1995 when the U.S.-based Millicom was forced to end cellular telephone service. The Sala IV determined that the new innovation infringed on the monopoly that was guaranteed to the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. Millicom had been offering the cell service here since 1989. Naturally it took the government monopoly more than a year to resume the cell service.

Once before the government tried to open up the telephone industry to private companies. Riots ensued and the idea was abandoned. The current opening is due to the free trade treaty with the United States. Having lost its monopoly service, the government-owned Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad fears a loss of income. The fears are well grounded because local telephone service, including cell service, is offered at less than cost.

The government telecom company has been dogged by complaints of poor coverage, overloaded systems and other flaws, not to mention less than stellar customer service.

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