I have been waiting for high-speed internet at my house for a long time. Over three years, to be exact. I have called the ICE, the government monopoly on telecommunications, every few months and their response is always the same. A bored voice on the other line says, “There are no ports available.” When will they get some ports in? Again, the same answer every time, and quintessentially Tico: “I wouldn’t know what to tell you.” (No sabría decirle).
Then, a couple of months ago, the voice of boredom informed me that there were indeed ports available, and that I should head to my nearest ICE office to sign my contract. I was out the door before he would not know what to tell me.
You have to understand: I really, really want fast internets at home. I have an office in downtown San José, but getting there is a life-threatening obstacle course full of bone-jarring potholes, weapon-weilding hoods, unbelievably drunk bums, and a variety of vehicles piloted by reckless, unskilled drivers with absolutely no fear of the potbellied authorities. This drive, which features 34 ninety-degree turns, takes me anywhere between 40 minutes and two hours. I hate it.
As it currently stands, I do have dialup internets at home. This dinosaur is more like the Information Backalley, and pages load with all the lethargic plodding of a bureaucrat pecking at his typewriter (see post below). Frequently the phone goes dead, and with it my staticy lifeline to the world.
I parked a few blocks from downtown Heredia. I do this so I don’t have to pay the guachimán, which is pronounced watchy mon. These are the people you see in orange vests, swinging nightsticks (or just small branches) while ostensibly offering mafia-like “protection” for your car. “I’ll keep an eye on it,” they say, nearly touching their own eyes with their index and middle fingers, then using those two digits to point at your car. When you leave, you pay the guachiman. This is a socially endorsed, tacitally accepted form of extorsion.
So I walked to the ICE’s office, and I took a number: 67. The sign flashed Now Serving: 77. So I would have to wait to 99, at which point it would go back to zero. Ninety spots could stand between me and my fast DSL connection. I decided to give it 20 minutes.
After a half hour, they were serving 84. I left and came back the next day.
I got in after a 40 minute wait, signed my contract and glowed with thoughts of downloaded music, You Tube videos and uploading pictures on this blog. “When do you think they’ll install this?” I ventured. The man on the other side of the counter said, “Within a month, could be. The technicians will call you. But don’t get your hopes up. There are not a lot of ports available. They might not get to you.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s a lot of demand in your area, so they’re only installing a few ports.”
This irked me, so I took a deep breath and asked the obvious question. “If there’s high demand, why don’t they try to meet that demand? Wouldn’t that generate more money for the company, and make the populace happy?”
“No sabría decirle.”
This statement was incomprehensible to my capitalistic sensibilities. It is not, however, an isolated incident. A letter from Lew Hayes in this week’s The Tico Times, a San Jose-based weekly English-language newspaper, reads
When I first moved to Costa Rica in the mid-1970s, I bought canned mushrooms at a local pulpería [small convenience store]. After a bit, the owner stopped stocking them, and when I asked him why, he replied, “They sell so fast that I can’t keep them in stock, so I don’t bother ordering them anymore.”
I suggested that he place a larger order, but it fell on deaf ears.
Many people have similar stories. I don’t really know how to classify this. Any economists out there care to explain the economic principles guiding this line of thought?