San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Court sets deadline for opening cell market


The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV) ordered Tuesday that the Costa Rican cellular telephone market be opened within 90 days.
Although the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), in effect since January 2009, required the market to open to competition, access for interested cellular service providers has not yet been granted by Costa Rican regulatory agencies. Currently, the state-owned Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) holds a monopoly on providing cellular phone service.
According a statement by the Sala IV, which voted unanimously July 30 to enact the order, the Environment, Energy and Telecommunications Ministry (MINAET), the Superintendency of Telecommunications (SUTEL) and ICE must “coordinate actions” in the next 90 days to make cellular frequencies available to would-be competitors.
In April, the three government agencies encountered what they characterized as “logistical problems” in securing frequencies for incoming cellular providers.
The court’s opinion said that delays in opening the cellular market have been “excessive and unreasonable,” and that it “is affecting the fundamental rights of consumers who opted for freedom of services” in a nationwide referendum held in October 2007 that was supportive of CAFTA.
While the Sala IV’s order echoes widespread frustration with the delays, local media and analysts said the 90-day deadline for opening the market might be too ambitious. However, Carolina Mora, a SUTEL spokeswoman, said that if the agency were forced to complete the process in 90 days, “it would be possible.”
“We have already contacted MINAET and ICE regarding the order made by the Sala IV,” Mora said. “In order to complete the market opening in 90 days, we will need to modify several of the technical and economic processes we originally outlined.”
For more on this story, see the Aug. 6 print or digital edition of The Tico Times.

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