The REAL Costa Rica
 


The Internet in Costa Rica

Contents (also see recommended software and hardware for Costa Rica)

Overview of services
Modems Service (dial up)
Cable Modem Service
Dongles
DSL
ISDN
Viruses, Worms, & Trojan Horses
Satellite
 

Overview of Internet Services Costa Rica


If you are moving to or visiting Costa Rica, you will certainly want to connect to the Internet.  As with all communications, the Internet falls under control of the  Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE)

One of the most often asked questions goes something like this:  "I am moving to Costa Rica and I am going to live in XXXXXX.  Can I get absolutely reliable high speed Internet there?".

I have two fast answers. 

1. High speed Internet is available in an ever-growing number of locations. Now how you define high speed may vary. It will depend on the company you use for service, but some of the amazing speeds available in the US may not be available here, or may cost a great deal more.

I live in the Central Valley where I have cable modem... supposedly a high speed connection. Mine is 4MB download which is certainly OK for most folks. It is a lot better than a modem, but for comparison, my daughter who lives in Chicago has cable modem service that is 11 times faster than mine.  She also pays less than I do.   If you are used to the often blazing speeds currently available in the US, you need to understand the services here are not going to be equal or you will pay a premium to get them.

2.  There is absolutely no 100% reliable service here from any Internet Service Provider unless you are using leased and redundant, high speed lines such as T-1 (or greater) connection (which are outrageously expensive here).  Interruptions are not uncommon (maybe 1-2times per month where I live). While this is probably acceptable to many people, some others might find it annoying or unworkable, especially if you simply cannot have downtime.

While you will generally get decent service, there can be outrages, problems with IP addresses being blocked for outgoing email, system slowness, and DNS (name server) problems that plague IT professionals.  I experience these commonly in my San José office, but it is more of an annoyance than a deal breaker.  I have a ton of Tico clients here who can attest to the sometimes spotty service offered in Costa Rica.  Customer service is worse, and you will need patience to get matters resolved. So is it just impossible? No Just annoying.. Saying that, type A people may have a hard time of it though.

The problem is exacerbated because most Internet Service Providers (ISP) simply have untrained or maybe UNDER trained technicians. This is not an issue if you, the customer, know nothing, but presents real frustration to professionals who know what is wrong yet cannot get those techs to understand this issue. Most frustration is the "It's the other company's fault, call them" or "There is something wrong at your end". Recently, I called my ISP to report an issue I KNEW was related to DNS servers not functioning, and sure enough, I get the "It's your PC issue, we cannot help". I escalated the call (FIVE levels, and was told that their DNS servers had been offline and were back now... all starting working perfectly. So the summary? Bring your patience. Also, Spanish helps a LOT.

"Internet Service Providers? I thought there was only one".

Well sort of. Everything goes through ICE for now, but there are cable companies and RACSA that offer their own Internet connections and customer support and of course there is ICE itself. ICE owns RACSA and is attempting to effectively disallow them from selling Internet services, probably because RACSA is competent.

Here is s short list in order of service quality and knowledge:

  1. Cabletica - head and shoulders above the rest
  2. RACSA - They have improved customer service and I hear good things
  3. Amnet - Crummy "It's your fault" customer service Many service interruptions
  4. ICE - No clue how to fix issues. Same blame game as Amnet

Sadly, you will almost always have only just 1-2 choices depending on where you want service.

Finally, expect few support staff to speak any English at any of these companies.

Free Trade Agreement (FTA)

I get asked all the time if the FTA is going to solve problems. The answer is maybe, but probably not while I am alive. Kidding. While the communications section of the FTA is good for everyone, I think implementing it will be a nasty business unless the foreign companies are willing to dump a ton of money into a country with less than 5 million people. I do expect some competition by 2013.

Quality

As I said, there are outages, slow downs and other irritating issues, but saying this, unless you are a day trader, or a true IT professional who absolutely HAS to have a solid 24 x 7 connection, the system here in Costa Rica is quite tolerable.  99% of you will use your connection for surfing, email, paying bills and so on... so a 45 minute outage or a system slowdown, while irritating, simply is not critical. 

Rarely do I meet people who really DO need 100% reliable service.  The ones I do meet don't really need that service, they are just the A types who want that service quality. If you are an A type, you probably won't care much for CR anyway!

To those people, I would say that unless you are willing to spend vast sums of money every month for a high quality connection, Costa Rica is probably not yet ready for you.  However, as I stated above, it is rare that anyone really need that level of service.  I own several companies here all of which use the Internet extensively, and I can work nicely with the current system... though it can also be a  HUGE annoyance.

Availability of higher speed service is spreading.  DSL is now available in many locations with more very day..  This was not true a year or two ago. Sadly, ICE is running out of lines in the central offices

The ONLY way I know to RELIABLY find out if DSL service is available in any specific location is to call ICE (or RACSA) and ask if it is available NOW, at a specific address where there is installed this exact phone number. 

Do NOT presume that because you meet someone online or are communication with someone who says "I have DSL and I Live here" that it will be available in YOUR location, even if that location is only a few blocks away.

You will generally find more reliable and more widely offered services in the Central Valley, and your chances of resolving a support issue in San José is far better than in remote locations.

Also, be aware the English (or other languages) are not spoken widely at ICE, and while quite a bit better, RACSA still may not be able to provide an English speaking person at a moments notice.

For WIFI, wifi or hotspots in Costa Rica - Click here.

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Regular Modem Service Costa Rica - Also see 900 no contract service below

The good news is that Costa Rica has fairly decent connectivity throughout the country.  If you have phone service, you can connect to the Internet, though it may be a very slow connection.  Wiring in homes can be in poor condition, and even if it is in good condition, the equally important wires that run from your location to the nearest ICE office probably will not.  Modem connection speeds of 28k are not uncommon.

Service is either $15 or $25 per month depending on whether you wish to operate only from one location or from any phone line.  RACSA assigns you an email address with this service, but RACSA's email service is notoriously bad.

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Cable Modem Service Costa Rica

Cable modem service is available through the various cable TV companies in Costa Rica.  Generally, cable Internet is offered only in and around the Central Valley.  It has not yet spread to the outer regions.  The two main companies are CableTica, a division of Channel 7 TV, and Amnet.

There are also now 2-3 other companies but I have no idea if they are any good.

Cable service requires the purchase of a cable modem.  Prices range from around $60.00 to $100.00, and can be paid over time on the monthly bills.

I use CableTica and their current rates can be seen here

Should that page change, here is their home page which should be permanent: http://www.cabletica.com/ then look for Internet and Precios (prices)

Obviously, rates change and like the US, only one cable company services an area, so the above info is for reference only.

 

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DSL Service Costa Rica

In mid June, 2005, ICE began to offer DSL service to much of the Central Valley AND the outer areas, including some beach areas.  The promise of high speed service for the whole country is behind schedule, but as of 2011, a lot of locations offer this service.  Beach areas and mountain locations, who never had a high speed option, may now have this service.  As this changes almost weekly, I will make no attempt to keep the locations where DSL is currently offered.  If high speed service is a requirement, contact ICE before you sign the rental or purchase papers.  It will help if you obtain the phone number at the location.  As with cable Internet, a special modem will be required.  You will pay less than $100.00 for the modem.

ICE has had serious problems with their IP addresses.  Much better now though. Many had been used to send SPAM, and routinely, I receive calls from people (my clients) whose IP addresses have been blocked for outgoing email.  This is a huge annoyance for people in general an for businesses in particular.  It means you may be dead in the water for sending emails until the problem has been resolved.  ICE does not have a great track record on prompt resolution of these problems, but as I said, MUCH better now.

For techies only:  A further problem is that many of ICE's IP addresses do not have the reverse DNS configured properly.  As many email servers now look for Reverse DNS to be available, emails can be refused at the receiving mail server.  This drive people nuts here, but it is almost impossible to explain why they cannot send mail to Yahoo, Hotmail and other servers.

 

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ISDN

ISDN is offered in a few locations.  This service requires a more expensive modem, and those who I have talked to all seem to be less than happy with the service.   You may also have to purchase repeaters to strengthen the service from  the ICE central office to your location.  If you have no other option, oh well.  If you can wait until DSL comes, that might be a good idea.

 

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900 Internet -  Pay by the minute Modem Service

This 900 number service provides access to RACSA's Internet. It does not require that you sign a contract with the company or a minimum fee to "surf" the web.

Benefits:

  • The service is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to be used at any moment without any previous requirements.
  • Low Cost

     

Cost and caveats:

  • The cost is ˘7.00 (colones) per minute.  ˘7.00 is approximately 1.5 cents (US) per minute plus the cost of the phone call.  Note:  there are TWO charges here.
  • Does not requires signing a contract with RACSA.
  • The customer pays only for the time used time.  No minimum fee.
  • The payment is part of your monthly phone bill.
  • Fully supported Customer Service Department of RACSA.

Exceptions:

You will not have access to the 900-On Line Internet access if:
  • The phone line belongs to the government.
     
  • Phones that for any special reason will not send the identification number to those who are called. In this case you can use a minimum fee package.
  • Customer who voluntarily requests to be excluded on the 900-On Line service.
     
  • Those who have not paid their phone bills and are currently marked as a delinquent payer.
     
  • Customers who have consumed more than 36 hours within the month or a fraction of it and have not formally requested to continue with that level of consumption of the 900 On Line service.
     

Operation:

To use this service there is no previous requirement. The interested person only needs a computer with a modem and a phone line, configure the Internet access to display the terminal window after the dial and to dial the number 900-365-4632. (900-EN LÍNEA).

Once the computer dials the number and receives a welcome display, the customer accepts the conditions of the service by pressing one or more keys and then the <Enter> key. Next, he has to press the "F7" key and is then signed on.

Required equipment:

Personal Computer Users (PC):
  • 32 MB of RAM Memory or greater.
  • Pentium II / Cyrix 200 MHz / AMD K6.
  • Windows 95/98/2000 operating system.
  • Phone line.
  • Modem 14.400 bps or greater.
  • Communication Software (browser).

Macintosh Users:

  • 32 MB of RAM Memory or greater.
  • Operating System 7.5 or greater
  • Phone Line.
  • Modem 14.400 bps or greater
  • Communication Software (browser).

Additional Information:

  • This service does not provide email service
  • The maximum amount of hours per customer of consumption is 36 hours monthly. When this amount is reached, the service will automatically be blocked. The customer will be able to use more hours by sending a fax to the number 287-0508, indicating that more hours of service are needed and that he will accept the extra charges on the phone bill.
  • In case of failures or questions about the configuration of a computer, the customer can call our Technical Support Department, phone number: 800-NAVEGAR (800-628-3427).
  • To obtain more information, the customer can call RACSA via telephone at 800-628-3427.

 

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Dongles

A dongle is a kind of modem, broadband Internet device that looks like a pen drive (small USB hard drive for backups), USB drive, etc but on steroids.

It allows connection to the cell phone system Internet (3G). A cell phone is not required. The SIM resides inside the dongle. Maximum speed is 1MB as of today (2011) but that could change. If you live in a location that has no other option, this can be the answer. 1MB is not great speed, but fine for email, light surfing, etc. Forget watching movies. Cost varies at ICE, but figure about $30.00 per month for unlimited service. Dongles cost from $75 to $200.00. I use one from a US company and they are waaaay cheaper if purchased in the USA. I paid about $85.00 ICE sells them too, and price varies. About 85% of Costa Rica has 3G cell phone coverage, so the dongle should work anywhere there is 3G cell service. I use mine for when I am traveling as it works anywhere I have cell service and also as a backup when my office connection is down. There are now new service providers that offer SIMs with Internet. Packages vary but I use Fullmovil in my iPad and dongle because I can pay by the minute. You need to do your homework on this. Other companies in no particular order are: Claro, Movistar, and TuYo

Alternative!

ICE is having issues figuring out they cannot continue to overcharge and treat people like CACA (Spanish for poopy!) Ther ARE improving though.

I use one of the Pre-Paid SIMs in my Dongle and instead of paying up to $30 per month to ICE for crummy service, I pay about 50 colones for three hours. The Pre-paid SIM comes with 3000 colones installed so do the math. MUCH cheaper and even though the speed is only 500 KB, it is actually faster than the 1MB offered by ICE! I can also remove it and put it in a cell phone, something you cannot do with the SIMs from ICE. PrePaid SIMs also work great in my iPad or in an iPhone though they must be cut to size. BE CAREFUL. Cutting a SIM is tricky and requires a person with knowledge and a SIM of adequate size to be cut. Sales of Pre-paid SIMs can be found at Cell Phones Costa Rica. They also know how to cut SIMs for iPhones/iPads.. They do NOT offer services to tourists and only to locals living in or around San José.

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Virus Problems in Costa Rica

I am not sure why, but your exposure to viruses, Trojan Horses, and Worms is far greater here than most other countries.  Every month at the ARCR Seminar, people approach me to ask about what I use to protect my personal and business PC.  So I added a page that tells you everything that I use to keep safe.  Here it is.

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Satellite Internet Service

There are a number of companies that offer satellite Internet service here.  Sadly, two problems!

1.  All are illegal. RACSA and ICE have told me none of these services has permission to transmit a signal (receiving is legal). and equally important... maybe more so... 

2.  Almost very single person I have spoken with who uses these illegal services tell me the service is just AWFUL.  Over prices and really crummy customer service.

Now, saying this, if your home is in some jungle and you want and need satellite Internet, and are willing to fork over maybe $5,000 installation cost plus another $100-200 per month for service, then that is your option. Just keep in mind that you ARE breaking the law, and if caught, might have to deal with the consequences.

Note:  RACSA does offer a satellite service that is legal as it uses a phone line for the transmission part.  Again, it is hugely overpriced AND I have yet to meet anyone who is happy with the service.  Many interruptions and terrible customer service.

DSL is coming to many locations which will certainly obsolete this satellite thing.  Pretty silly (IMHO) to pay thousands for substandard service that will go away with a couple of years.

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