Court ruling sets precedent for cellular network operators to provide coverage
Court ruling sets precedent for cellular network operators to provide coverage

COSTA RICA NEWS — What may have far reaching consequences, the state telecom, the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) has been ordered pay compensation of ¢1 million to two people who suffered a traffic accident in Puntarenas and could not get help for failure of cellular phone service.

After suffering a collision in Quebrada del Fierro de Puntarenas on the night of September 8, 2011, around 10:00pm, Fernando Reyes, Marcos Muñoz and a third person, due to a mechanical failure causing Reyes (the driver) to lose control of the wheel, careening off the road, down a hill and hitting a tree, the lack of a cellular signal forced them to wait for more than two hours for another driver to appear on the desolate road and take to get help.

Reyes and Muñoz, who filed a lawsuit against ICE, say they were unable to reach emergency services on their cell phones, finding there was no coverage.

In their lawsuit, they alleged lack of information by the state telecom, not warning that Quebrada del Fierro was outside the cellular coverage area. They asked for damages of ¢4.1 million colones and punishment for ICE. The two men say that the damages are for the loss of the load of shrimp that was stolen during the time they spend getting help.

In its decision, the Sala Primera (Superior Court) found in favour of the Reyes and Muñoz and ordered ICE to pay ¢1 million colones in damages.

The judges, in their ruling, said the damages are not for the accident, but for the lack of cellular telephone service.

Was it fair? Fernando Reyes said the amount paid out by ICE is  “una cochinada” (a stupidity). The  million does not even cover 10% of his loss, the cost of the merchandise and the lawyer.

Reyes added that compensation doesn’t even come close to cover the shame of being the first in Costa Rica to sue for the failures of cell signal and been called a laughingstock” (hazmerreír in Spanish).

Reyes explained to La Nacion that his purpose with the suit wasn’t to stick it to ICE but to create a precedent raising awareness of the rights of consumers.

Reyes’ lawyer told La Nacion that although payment of the ICE is “poco” (little), the value of the process is to set a precedent and force telcos to fulfill contracts.

“It’s funny, since we introduced this lawsuit, ICE and the other operators have woken up and began to install more towers. (…), ” he added.

For its part, ICE reported yesterday that  has already paid the amount fixed by the court and has accelerated optimization and coverage of the network to improve mobile services in the area.

The Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones (SUTEL) would not comment on the ruling.

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