San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

ICE Director Takes the Tico Times Hot Seat

Before Adolfo Arias, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute’s (ICE) services director, could enter The Tico Times building for a recent live online chat, a local TV news crew cornered him in the parking lot.

Their inquiring minds wanted to know from the national telecommunications provider why María José Castillo, the Tica contestant in “Latin American Idol,” hadn’t garnered enough mobile text messages the night before to win.

A short time later, participants in the online chat – a mix of Costa Ricans and other nationalities – put ICE on the hot seat about Costa Rica’s defeat and Panama’s victory on “Idol” before hunkering down on matters of free-market competition and new gadgets, such as BlackBerry phones, which are now available.

Some excerpts:

Can you describe the difference between SMS platforms of Panama and Costa Rica?

I don’t have access to Panama’s SMS platforms, but let’s consider Panama has two operators: Cable and Wireless and Movistar with different technology. These kinds of platforms are standard, so I can say for sure they should be similar to ours.

I need to change my daughter’s phone because it is having problems. She has TDMA technology. Why do we have to buy a TDMA phone now and another GSM later?

TDMA technology is obsolete. … Even stores don’t sell new TDMA devices anymore. What you may find are refurbished terminals. We have to change in order to have our client with the best and newest technologies. ICE is going to think about strategies to support this change without difficulties for our clients.

I do not have residency but would love to get a cell phone. Do I have any options?

We’re going to deploy prepaid services in about two or three months, and we’re going to have about 20 or 30 thousand for visitors, so you may use your passport as an ID to get service.

What’s going to happen with all the clients still using TDMA? Won’t they have to switch to GSM eventually? But we still have to wait because there are not enough GSM lines to offer.

This kind of client should migrate to GSM or to 3G. We expect to have a 300K GSM offer by December, so you can switch to that technology by that time. About the TDMA shutdown, we still don’t have a date, but you may find that stores don’t provide any more new terminals for TDMA, so our recommendation is to switch to GSM as soon as possible.

Many Latin American countries have privatized telecommunications, but Costa Rica has not. Is it a philosophical difference we have here?

That’s a difficult question. Of course Costa Rica has many differences to other countries. You can even find here things happening that you will never see any other places. Anyway, we love our country and the way we are. I really think there may be some philosophic differences, of course.

How’s ICE preparing for the competition when CAFTA (Central Free-Trade Agreement with the United States) finally passes in the Legislative Assembly? Is ICE ready to compete with international companies offering better and faster services – even giving free mobile phones if you sign a contract with them?

Yes, of course, ICE is preparing to compete. We are going to introduce new services such as: Prepaid, Ring Back Tones, IPTV, Mobile TV, SMS and MMS gateways, and many other content services with commercial strategies such as the one we recently had with Latin American Idol.

If I own a BlackBerry phone in the United States, can I purchase a SIM card in Costa Rica to be on your network?

You can bring your BlackBerry to our commercial representatives and buy a service with our tariffs. I recommend you bring your ID and BB purchase ticket.

I travel often to the U.S. What king of services can I get in order to receive incoming and outgoing phone calls from Costa Rica and vice versa?

We have international roaming. You can ask for this service in our agencies. Of course, we are working to have new mobile phones available (3G), iPhones. We (have just deployed) BlackBerry. We’re deploying 300K GSM lines in December.

Do we need to be a resident to buy the SIM card for BlackBerry?

As far as I know, yes, you do. I will suggest you program your BlackBerry in a prepaid line by December because we’re going to have 20,000 or 30,000 lines using prepaid and to those clients you can use your passport to have a service.

What about Internet services? I ended up buying the service with my cable TV provider because of their faster answer to get me the connection. What are the future plans at your company to improve?

We’re going to improve. We’re working on that. You are right.


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