I used the example of my wife’s unsuccessful efforts to call numbers in Costa Rica, where we have family and friends. Since that post, something happened.
All of a sudden, calls to the numbers concerned have been getting through. And not only getting through, but the calls have superb clarity and quality, something we’ve not experienced before when calling any numbers in Costa Rica via SkypeOut. Skype, did you do something? I have an idea that you did. Or is it that the phone service in Costa Rica suddenly got better?
That’s definitely a rhetorical question, as there’s something going on in Costa Rica concerning internet telephony, or VoIP, that indicates how much of a threat to traditional phone systems VoIP services like Skype do represent in the eyes of many phone companies.
On Saturday, an article in La Nación (in Spanish, and registration required), the leading and most influential Costa Rican daily newspaper, reports on some pretty radical measures that Costa Rica’s state-owned telephone company is planning to get pushed through the Costa Rican legislature to prevent usage of internet phone services by making use of them illegal.
According to La Nación, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE), the phone company, is deliberating two things – either, to consider internet telephony as a fraudulent activity and to make it a criminal offence for anyone to use VoIP services; or, treat it as an added-value service and regulate it.
What? Let’s just run that again.
The phone company is saying that, if they can get this proposed law passed, if you use a VoIP service you’ll be committing fraud, breaking the law and could go to jail. Or, at best, they’ll regulate it and charge you extra to use it, thus eliminating the primary advantage for people in using it.
The newspaper’s article says that one in every five phone calls from Costa Rica to numbers in the US is now made via an internet telephony service like Skype. That’s 20% of all calls. While the paper doesn’t give any historical comparisons to indicate how much or how quickly this growth has been, it’s clear to see that the phone company is looking at how the future will most likely develop, and wants to ensure it stops in its tracks any threat to its position.
La Nación says that in Costa Rica, the picture may be made more complicated by the fact that, legally, only the ICE is authorized to offer telecommunications services in the country. The paper quotes Claudio Bermúdez, deputy director of ICE, saying:
VoIP, which has all the characteristics of a telephone service, is considered to be a carrier and substitute telephone service, and so is required to use the public telecommunications infrastructure.
The ICE also controls internet access to and from the country.
The situation re VoIP in Costa Rica may or may not be representative of what is happening in other developing countries where telecommunications infrastructure and services typically are state owned and major sources of revenue. One example where it’s not typical is in its Central American neighbour El Salvador which introduced a low-cost VoIP international phone service last week, according to La Nación.
It seems to me that the Costa Rican phone company and the government are resisting the inevitable. But if you add in the significant political (and social) upheavals in recent months due to some major scandals reaching into the highest levels of government, and which also implicate certain people in ICE (I commented about this last September), perhaps it’s not too surprising to see astounding moves like this.