Sometimes, not even the best-laid plans are as helpful to a new business as a little serendipity.
Such is the case with Telefónica Amarilla, S.A., which just completed its first-ever yellow pages and began distributing them in San José – just days after the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE), which traditionally hires a private company to publish the phone directories, announced it will be unable to publish yellow pages (commercial) this year, though it will publish white pages (residential).
General Manager Alexander Morales said it’s a common misconception that the new company was formed to take advantage of the conflict between ICE, the state-run telephone company, and the U.S.-based telecommunications firm Verizon, which previously published the books. However, he told The Tico Times the company was formed in January 2005, just before the ICE-Verizon wrangle began, and has nothing to do with the split – the company is just in the right place at the right time.
This is the first time yellow pages have been published privately in Costa Rica, according to Telefónica Amarilla spokeswoman Theda María Briceño. She said the books are now being distributed through the Red Cross, which traditionally distributed the directories published by ICE. As in past years, the Red Cross is requesting donations in exchange for bringing the phone directory to people’s doorsteps.
The phone-book saga began last year, when ICE ended its contract with Verizon, claiming that Verizon made a major change in the way the directories were published without consulting the institute. Namely, Verizon published regional directories rather than the traditional nationwide book (TT, Jan. 21, 2005). The conflict later prompted a decision by Verizon executives to cease all operations here (TT, July 8, 2005).
The company’s Costa Rican branch, Verizon Information Services LLC, and ICE are now suing each other, according to the daily La Nación. The institute is asking for ¢12 billion ($24 million) in damages before an administrative contention court, and Verizon is suing ICE before an ad hoc tribunal for ¢17 billion ($34 million). The company claims it presented the proposed change to ICE in 2004 and went ahead with the regional directories when the institute did not respond.
ICE legal director Geovanni Bonilla told the daily Verizon also filed a case against ICE in an administrative court but later withdrewthe suit.
In December, the Comptroller General’s Office gave ICE permission to hire another company for the job, but the institute told La Nación the news came too late and that it doesn’t have time to sell ads and produce the commercial directory this year.
Radiográfica Costarricense, S.A. (RACSA), the state telegram and Internet company, will fund the publication of the white pages and is in the process of inviting various companies to compete for the concession; the directory should be ready by mid-year, RACSA spokesman Mario Zaragoza told The Tico Times.
With no yellow pages from ICE in sight, Telefónica Amarilla is left with the entire market to itself. Unsurprisingly, expansion plans are already in the works.
This year, the company published 125,000 copies, and are planning 500,000 next year to cover the entire country. To help deal with the demand, the company will sell 20,000 additional directories on CD-ROM (¢1,500/$3), also distributed by the Red Cross once the paper copies are distributed.
Morales said this will probably take place in February. All ads can also be viewed online at www.telefonicaamarilla.com.
In addition, the company plans to compete for the ICE concession to publish the 2007 guides, he said.
According to Morales, the company was founded to provide customers with a cheaper, better-organized alternative to the existing directories, which Verizon had published for 25 years.
“In most countries, there are two, even three yellow pages in the same place,” he said. “We focused on three pillars that made us different from the existing products on the market: coverage, personalized service and price.”
The Telefónica Amarilla guide includes businesses from all over the country and doesn’t divide the directory into regions; a team of 50 employees traveled throughout Costa Rica during 2005 to collect information and create a database.
“The people considered the country too small to have five books,” he said, referring to the Verizon guides. Costa Rica, which uses seven-digit phone numbers similar to the United States, has no area codes.
Ads in the Telefónica Amarilla directory are 50% less expensive than ads in previous guides, he added.
For more information on obtaining a book or CD-ROM, or to participate in the 2007 guide, visit the company’s Web site, listed above, or call 296-9681.
ICE’s nationwide telephone directory service, with residential and commercial listings, can be reached by dialing 113 anywhere in the country. Following the Verizon contract dispute, ICE made the calls free to compensate for the lack of national directories. This offer is in effect until future notice.