Big day today for cell firms that seek to open up here

This morning the telecom agency will receive bids from private firms interested in setting up a cell phone system in Costa Rica.

This is the long-awaited bidding session that has been derailed multiple times by legal problems.

For international telecom firms, the ticket to participate costs $70 million. That is what the Superintendencia de Telecomunicaciones has set as a concession fee for the three companies that win the right to one of the three sets of telecommunication frequencies being auctions.

The actual opening of the proposals will be at the Hotel Intercontinental between 10 and 11 a.m. The specifics of the financial bids will not be known at that time. They will be submitted in sealed envelopes for later, said the Superintendencia.

George Miley, president of the Superintendencia, said that his agency has made a great effort to arrive at this point. A principal stumbling block was the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad, which has been the monopoly telephone provider. The bid opening today is only possible because the company known as ICE under pressure withdrew its latest legal claim.

The private phone systems are a direct result of the Central American Free Trade Treaty which forced open access for private firms.

If all goes well, the country will have four cell phone operators, including ICE.

Each concession is for 15 years.

Not just any firm can participate. The Superintendencia said that a firm must already have 1.8 million mobil subscribers elsewhere and have been in operation for five years. The firms also must have experience in setting up a new cell system and have income of $450 million a year for at least three years.

A committee has been set up to study the technical qualifications of the firms. Once the committee qualifies the participating firms, another open session will be held to reveal the economic offers from the firms. Until then, the folders containing the economic information will be kept in a bank, the Superintendencia said.

The Superintendencia expects each of the new cell phone firms to invest a billion dollars in the first five years of operation. The agency estimates that for each dollar invested the country will receive $4 in indirect investment in development of infrastructure, transportation and other projects.

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