(Corrects spelling of Telefonica in paragraph four)
By Leslie Josephs
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica Jan 18 Costa Rica on
Monday kicked off the process of opening its cell phone market
to private companies, ending the state telecommunications
company's more than four-decade monopoly.
The telecommunications regulator, known as Sutel, said it
will open up bids in April and hopes to complete the award of
the new concessions in the second half of the year.
"We believe that in September, we'll be giving the
operators the new concessions," said Sutel's president, George
Companies interested in bidding include America Movil
(AMXL.MX) (AMX.N), Latin America's leading cellphone operator,
Spain's Telefonica SA (TEF.MC), and privately-held regional
mobile operator Digicel, Sutel said in a statement.
Company officials were not immediately available to confirm
their interest in bidding although all three are active in
other Latin American markets.
The state-owned Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, or
ICE, has dominated the telecommunications sector for more than
45 years and controls fixed line, cell phone and Internet
service in the Central America nation of 4 million people.
There are currently 1.8 million cell phone lines in Costa
Rica, where third generation, or 3G services, were introduced
Costa Rica, which has traditionally had strong state
control over utilities and other important parts of the
economy, was obliged to end the telecommunications monopoly
under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which went
into effect last year.
"They're coming here to compete with us," ICE spokesman
Elbert Duran told Reuters, adding that the company welcomes the
The ICE currently operates 88 percent of Costa Rica's cell
phone frequencies, with the remainder reserved for
After the concessions process ICE will have approximately
one-third of the available frequencies.