San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Vague Cell Phone Rules May Delay Entry of Private Telecoms

The Comptroller General’s Office has ordered the Telecommunications Superintendency (SUTEL) to correct its written guidelines for the opening of Costa Rica’s mobile telephone market.

The order came in response to the objections of three companies – Cable & Wireless, Claro and Centennial Towers – that complained last week of insufficiencies in SUTEL’s 200-page document outlining regulations for the new market. A total of seven companies have expressed concerns about the lack of clarity in the document, which was released Aug. 30.

In response to the order, SUTEL released a statement saying it will review the companies’ concerns and attempt to provide more clarity. The statement also said that such objections are “normal” and that SUTEL will revise the document if necessary.

The opening of the cell phone market is a result of the Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the U.S. (CAFTA), which Costa Rica joined in January 2009. Prior to CAFTA, the state-owned Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) held a monopoly on providing mobile phone service in the country. Technical snags concerning frequencies and unavailable cell towers have repeatedly stalled the opening of the market to private competition.

According to a timeline presented by SUTEL, three new cell phone companies will be providing service in Costa Rica by September 2011. However, if SUTEL is required to change the guidelines, that date could again be changed.  

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