Court orders state-run mobile carrier to pay customers for poor coverage

December 4, 2014

A Civil and Administrative Tribunal ordered the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) to pay ₡500,000 ($945) to two of its customers for a lack of signal that prevented them from seeking help after a traffic accident three years ago.

The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit against ICE after an incident on Sept. 8, 2011 in which a driver lost control of his vehicle due to a mechanical failure. The vehicle plunged off a cliff and crashed into a tree. One of the passengers, Fernando Reyes, managed to free himself from the vehicle, but when he tried to call for help, his ICE cellphone had no signal. He walked until he found a signal, delaying Red Cross emergency response by two hours, according to the lawsuit.

Judges sided with the plaintiffs, awarding them damages of $945 each. The ruling, however, was not based on the accident, but rather on the “lack of telephone service as contracted.”

It was a bittersweet ruling for the plaintiffs, who told several news outlets on Wednesday that “₡1 million barely covers 10 percent of the damages we suffered that day.”

Their attorney, Álvaro Moreno, told the daily La Nación that after the ruling, mobile carriers have significantly improved their coverage, and are more careful when signing contracts with users in areas that are difficult to cover.

ICE on Wednesday said in a written response that the company paid ₡500,000 to both plaintiffs last September, and ICE’s Telecommunications Department has optimized its cellular network. The state-run company also is updating its coverage maps in coordination with the Telecommunications Superintendency (SUTEL).

Following several complaints against the country’s mobile carriers last September, National Restoration Party lawmaker Fabricio Alvarado launched a social media campaign urging mobile users to post messages with the hashtag #modoavioncr  (Airplane Mode in CR) whenever there are problems making calls, sending text messages or using mobile Internet.

Many customers resort to the trick of turning on and off the “Airplane Mode” when no signal is found. That forces the device to scan frequencies to regain access to a carrier’s signal. The initiative at the time had strong support from the public and prompted several responses from SUTEL. 

See SUTEL’s coverage maps here

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