Ana Nubia Alegria, deputy director of Nicaraguan telecoms regulator Telcor, has confirmed that from 18 December 2004 the country’s fixed line markets will be opened to competition, ending incumbent Enitel’s long-standing monopoly.
By the end of 2003 Enitel’s network numbered 205,000 main lines in service, up from 171,000 a year earlier. The provision of telecoms services in rural areas, however, differs greatly from that in the cities. The majority, over 60%, of all main lines are installed in the capital Managua. Rolling out services to rural and outlying areas has proved a costly task, and one which Enitel has been ill-equipped to deal with. Since 1998 the capacity of the PSTN has stagnated and at the end of 2001 there were 147,000 people waiting for connection, up from 108,370 in 1999. The waiting time for a connection stood at two years, though Telcor points out that once a line is approved, a new client typically waits only 20 to 30 days for installation; there is a total estimated demand of 300,000 lines. According to the terms of Enitel’s concession, it must increase PSTN capacity to 220,000 lines by the end of 2004, and provide PSTN access to all towns with more than 1,500 people by 2008. To help fulfil these conditions it has spent USD2.5 million in deploying an earth station and around 180 VSATs, although many of them only support voice and a large number are not yet operational.
Enitel is currently owned by the state (49%), the Telia Swedtel-EMCE consortium (also known as Megatel, 40%) and employees (11%). However, in December 2003 the government accepted a minimum USD49.6 million bid from América Móvil for its 49%. Megatel was given 30 days to trump the bid, but decided not to pursue the holding. América Móvil, which already has a Nicaraguan presence through its mobile unit PCS Digital and cable broadband provider Turbonet, sees Enitel as a natural fit with its other Latin American assets, in El Salvador (CTE) and Guatemala (Telgua).