Costa Rica proposes national network of free wireless Internet

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    The Chinchilla Administration intends for all Costa Ricans to have access to a free wireless Internet network. This project appears in the National Development Plan 2011-2014, as one of the Government’s priorities in science and technology.

    “Having a wireless network that allows the public permanent access to Internet,” says the document on page 194.

    The chief of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MICIT by its Spanish acronym), Clotilde Fonseca, confirmed the interest in developing this type of network that would be freely accessible and more widely available as possible.

    “The idea is to have a wireless connectivity layer, for example, for young people in schools and colleges, for tourists and for small and medium enterprises. It would be a wide band but with a speed that does not compete with commercial services,” said Fonseca.

    For now, ¢180 million is allocated to start the project, said the Minister.

    A similar initiative was developed in Panama at a cost of $25 million (¢13,000 million).

    The neighboring country in 2010 began installing a mixed technology network Wi-Max (long-range wireless Internet and high speed) and Wi-Fi (a signal of shorter range and slower speed, but which devices such as phones and laptops can connect to). The Panamanians have access to that network when they come to public places like health centers, municipalities, libraries, gymnasiums and fire stations. The system gives a basic rate of 512 kbps, for which commercial providers can continue to provide services with speeds of much better quality (1 Mbps or more).

    What about money? Minister Fonseca is clear that the money budgeted by the Government is not enough for the entire project. More resources would come from the National Telecommunications Fund (Fonatel) which was left with more than $170 million by the award of two cellular bands to private telephone companies Telefonica and Claro.

    Fonseca said in Fonatel projects are presented by the Executive and executed by the General Superintendence of Telecommunications (Sutel by its Spanish acronym).

    George Milley, president of Sutel, said that having a public access wireless network would be of great benefit to the country.

    “The General Telecommunications Law requires that a minimum of telecommunications services be provided to residents of all regions of the country without discrimination on appropriate terms of price and quality. Therefore, a network of Internet connection (this kind) would fulfill this principle of universality and give a boost to national development,” said Milley to the newspaper, La Nacion.

    Alexander Mora, president of the Chamber of Information Technologies and Communication, also was in favor of this project.

    “It’s positive. Giving access is always a first step. Clearly the goal is to not only provide access, but to go further. But you can’t develop digital content and skills if we do not already have this type of access set up,” said Mora.

    Rafael Herrera, coordinator of the Department of Innovation and Business Development at the University of Costa Rica, is in agrement with giving more access to the Internet, but considered it necessary to train people to get the best of it.

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