Winston Churchill said: "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few." I say: "Never in field of utility service was so little owed by so few to so many."
Note: This piece was written at the request of the publisher of Top10CostaRica.com, and has already been published at that site, prior to some further editing.
Part I of III
Oftentimes, when thinking about certain local institutions (OK, just one, really) I recall those evil organizations from the spy movies and from television back in the early sixties. You know; the enemies of all mankind, the ones who wanted to take over the world. Our only hope was a James Bond, or maybe Dean Martin, in his role of Matt Helm. Wait a minute! What a strange twist of fate! Matt Helm was an agent of I.C.E. (Intelligence Counter Espionage). And, they were the good guys! Now, this is ironic, to say the least. We have come full circle! We have met the new, modern enemy, and he is ICE (say it quickly, with a Texas accent, and you'll see that I have made a pun, intended), but, of course, he was the good guy! Go figure.
This is most definitely NOT about good guys, 'cause even though there may be some good guys in the current employ of Costa Rica's ICE, none of 'em are in a position that might allow them to make any changes for the better, as in save us all from this evil. No, as a matter of fact, the good guys I know at ICE suffer right along with the rest of us, shrug their shoulders, and say, "Pura Vida, mae."
Now, one young man who I actually know, and who happens to work for ICE has a degree in Electrical Engineering, and is moving rapidly upward in the hierarchy at that institution (do you suppose, btw, that they named it as an institution however many years ago that they named it, because they knew how closely it would come to resemble bedlam?). Unfortunately, this young man is involved with the electrical supply side of things, rather than the internet 'service,' which is where I have the most problems with ICE.
But, just because I have more problems with their internet that is not to say that their phone service is anything to brag about, nor is their provision of electricity lacking in problems, or spikes on a meter. Actually, here is some real irony for you. Costa Rica can rightly be proud of the fact that ICE does manage to supply an adequate quantity of electricity for the entire country, with little or no sullying of the environment. But, that statement, just like reality, completely ignores the quality (as in, dearth of it), and one has to ask, at what cost, as in "Boy, are their rates ever steep!"?
Now we all know that this is a very seriously labor-intensive nation (one has to deal with three people just to buy one lousy nail at our local hardware store! I used to say screw, but realized that is not appropriate, since the end result is that the purchaser is pretty much well screwed upon his/her egress from the building. But that's another story). And, we know that there does not appear to be any business (other than maybe a Chinese restaurant owned/operated by a family of Chinese immigrants) that ever operates efficiently. Here is just a glimpse of how ICE tops anyone else's attempts at being not only labor-intensive, but seriously wasteful of resources and – naturally – money:
This entity must possess the largest fleet of company owned vehicles (not just per capita, but period) in the entire Western Hemisphere. An example: that young man that I referred to above, who works for ICE, (currently at a lower executive level, but moving up) recently told me how, when the executives have to attend a meeting away from their home office, this will result in the following: say there are four guys from said office going to the meeting in San Jose. Since one of the signs of a successful, one might even say upwardly mobile, ICE exec is to have an assigned car and driver that means that four different cars, with four different drivers will all make the trip. Multiply that by however many execs are attending from different parts of the country, and you get an idea of how many wasted man hours and how much wasted energy this represents. Just take a drive along any of the country's horrible roads. I guarantee you that you will see more vehicles with an ICE logo, usually with only one or two people in them, than you will see of anything else.
Now, what has me totally discombobulated, not to mention confused is this: I do not believe that any other nation on the face of this earth can make as strong a claim to be providing mostly clean energy. But, why is it so expensive? I mean, we are all aware that we pay more per kilowatt hour than any of us paid back in Gringolandia. The hydroelectric plants are in place, and some of them are really old. Windmills have been up and running for many years now. Geothermal plants have been established for a good while. Granted, new plants – both geo- and hydro- in nature, are being constructed as I write these words, and that cannot be cheap, since all the heavy equipment required both for the construction, and for the actual production of electricity, has to be imported. But, as those idiots on ESPN's MNF like to say, "Come on, Man!" Why is your unreliable product so expensive?
In one recent day I counted eight (8) – yes, that's right ocho – power interruptions! All of very brief duration, granted, but what effect do you suppose that many stop/start cycles has on expensive appliances like refrigerators, air conditioners (at the beach), and so forth? I know what effect it had on my PC. The boot portion of the HDD was fried, and I had to spend a day, plus, doing a complete system restoration. The good news is that I am capable of performing this kind of technical feat on my own, but imagine what it costs those of us who have to rely on local expertise in these situations. And, tell me, please, what kind of electrical system is so unstable? To answer my own question, let me suggest that a poorly maintained, and poorly operated, not to mention poorly constructed system might well operate so inefficiently.
Because of all the bad reports I have heard about not only frequent power surges, but ICE's lack of involvement in restoring what their customers lose due to said power surges, and in the interest of protecting my things, I have purchased and installed a whole house surge protector device. I try to remember to unplug certain items at night, not to conserve energy, but in case of yet another surge that might fry delicate circuitry. I made my contractor show me the installed grounds, and I have gone out of my way to reinforce some of the poorly grounded items that I have found. My PC is now connected via one of those UPS devices. So, not only is the questionable service overpriced, but you have to go to extra expense in other ways just to protect your various electrical/electronic devices.
More important, however, is that no one ever asks out loud, and certainly no one ever offers any explanation, regarding the main question here: "How in God's sweet name does ICE possibly justify charging so much for so little?" I'll try to answer that, and other questions, a bit later. But, first let me remind you, just in case you forgot, that ICE is also charged with providing other services, besides electricity. However, since this thing is starting to take on a life of its own, and I now realize I have two areas to cover yet, I think I'll save that for Part II.