New Cell Phone Lines Face Delay

July 30, 2004

IT will be a while before more cellphone lines become available in CostaRica.The Comptroller General’s Office lastweek failed to approve the sale of600,000 new second-generation GSM cellphone lines to the Costa Rican Electricityand Telecom Institute (ICE) by Swedishtelecom firm Ericsson.Originally, ICE planned to have thenew lines up and running by March ofnext year. However, the Comptroller’sOffice had 28 objections to the contractICE and Ericsson signed last month.The Comptroller’s Office is requiringthe contract include guarantees the systemthat will work properly. Since its debut inDecember 2002, ICE’s GSM cell phoneservice, which was purchased fromFrench telecom firm Alcatel, has frustratedcustomers, with inadequate service andreduced coverage.The Comptroller’s Office also questionedhow Ericsson was awarded thecontract.Last week, President Abel Pachecofired two ICE board members, who traveledto the Czech capital of Prague lastOctober with Ricardo Taylor, Ericsson’stop representative in Costa Rica. Theboard members and Alvaro Retana, ICE’ssub-manager of telecommunications, wereon an official trip to a telecommunicationsconference in Switzerland.The three officials left the conferenceearly to travel to Prague on what theylater described as “personal business”(TT, July 23). Two months after the trip,Ericsson won the bid.Comptroller Alex Solís said the mentionof the Prague trip was just an observationand did not influence the institution’sfinal decision on the contract.Pablo Cob, Executive President ofICE, said the Comptroller’s observationswere positive and would benefit customers,but admitted they would delay thenew lines from going on the market.Ericsson, through a press statement,said it would work to improve the contractin a way that is acceptable by theComptroller’s Office in the shortest timepossible.

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