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President Solís to weigh in on proposed changes to Internet rates

June 26, 2014

President Luis Guillermo Solís has asked Guy de Teramond, a former minister of science and technology and one of the pioneers of the Internet in Costa Rica, and Alonso Castro, director of the University of Costa Rica’s Informatics Center, to help him draft an official recommendation regarding a proposed new model for pricing mobile Internet usage.

The Telecommunications Superintendency (SUTEL) on July 1 will hold a public hearing to propose that mobile Internet rates be billed according to the amount of transferred data, at ₡0.0075 per-kilobyte downloaded, instead of billing for connection speed, which is how postpaid plans currently operate.

Solís will weigh in on the proposed change, which has prompted a heated debate between carriers and customers in recent weeks, although the data transfer rate already applies for prepaid plans, beginning last year.

Earlier this week Solís met with SUTEL President Maryleana Méndez and representatives of the country’s three carriers, Claro, Movistar and Kölbi, to discuss the details of the proposed model.

Following the meetings the president said he has enough information to issue an opinion regarding SUTEL’s proposal, and that he will meet with the two experts to further clarify his arguments. Solís said any possible modification should demand from carriers a commitment to offer the best access for consumers, adequate quality and pricing, and sufficient information regarding changes in mobile plans.

Solís noted that, if approved, the new rates model should exclude students in satellite education programs who use mobile Internet to interact with teachers, mostly in rural areas.

“The use of digital technologies in modern societies is not a luxury of life. It is a crucial resource, and we need to ensure quality access with the best conditions of both speed and cost,” Solís said after a weekly Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.

But opposition to changes has come from all directions. Justices from the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, or Sala IV, this week are studying a complaint filed by a group of citizens who argue that the proposed rate model violates the public interest.

The country’s ombudswoman, Ofelia Taitelbaum, also opposes the changes, saying the proposal as published in the official newspaper La Gaceta is different from one originally submitted by SUTEL’s Marketing Department.

Taitelbaum said the drafting of the published document “does not indicate that the new rates model would be an alternative to the current model,” meaning that information received by citizens is different from that which SUTEL intends to approve.

The Consumers Association publicly said they oppose the changes, alleging that the proposal originated from a telecom carrier’s request and not from technical criteria by SUTEL.

“Carriers since 2012 have been asking that the approved change in rates for prepaid plans also be applied to postpaid ones,” the group’s vice president, Gilberto Campos Cruz, told The Tico Times.

The public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 1, at 5:15 p.m. at SUTEL facilities in Escazú, southwest of San José. It also will be broadcast via video conferencing in court buildings in Cartago, Ciudad Quesada, Heredia, Liberia, Limón, Pérez Zeledón and Puntarenas.

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