He knew the change to eight digits was coming. That’s why Roy Esquivel, owner of an electric gate company called Portisa, had it in the budget to buy three new signs for his company’s three locations.
But changing all his company’s publicity materials in time for the switchover of all phone numbers this month to eight digits wasn’t cheap. He figures it ran him about $3,000.
You could practically hear him shrug over the phone.
“Diay, you have to keep up with technology.”
Esquivel seems like one of the few who have stayed on top of the number change, which will require all landline numbers to add a “2” and all cell phone numbers (which right now start with either a “3” or an “8”) to add an “8.”
The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) announced the change about a year ago. But other than this year’s phone book, most store fronts and phone lists have yet to followed Esquivel’s example.
They still have a few weeks: The change will take place at midnight March 20. This will be the second time in 14 years that ICE has expanded phone numbers. The last time was in 1994, when numbers went from six to seven digits – a move it said would provide enough numbers to last through 2034.
Juan Manuel Campos, a telecom lawyer who worked for ICE for 20 years, said part of the need for the new increase comes from ICE’s poor management of the seven-digit system, especially from its reserving all numbers starting with “8” for cell phone lines, in addition to the numbers starting with “3.”
There are an estimated 3 million phone lines in Costa Rica at the moment, including cell lines.
Though numeration is technically supposed to be in the hands of the Public Services Regulatory Authority (ARESEP) according to a law passed in 2002, a transition note tagged onto the law leaves that up to ICE as long as the company remains “the only operator of public telecommunications services.”
That will change in a few months once a bill making its way through the National Assembly goes into effect. The bill will break ICE’s telecom monopoly and create a new regulatory agency, the Telecommunication Superintendence (SUTEL).
This latest increase to eight digits will not affect outgoing calls, or special numbers like 113 and 115. The increase puts Costa Rica in the footsteps of Guatemala and El Salvador, which went to eight digits in recent years.
Officials say the increase should give enough numbers to last another 30 years. Esquivel isn’t so sure.
“It’s something really difficult to predict,” he said. “I don’t know if within five years it’s going to be nine digits. You never know.”