New expat grapples with phone and internet issues

Aug 10, 2017 | 47 comments

By Ray Horsley

Greetings CuencaHighLife readers from two new arrivals.

My name is Ray Horsley and my wife is Celeste. I’ve enjoyed reading CuencaHighLife for much of our last year in St. Petersburg, Florida. Now that we’ve moved to Cuenca it would be a thrill to contribute something to the website which, hopefully, is useful to others, especially to anyone using an internet phone service such as Cisco, Skype, Vonage, Magic Jack, Ooma, etc. Of all our experiences settling in, the most interesting one had to do with that simplest of things: the telephone.

According to Ecuador Customs, this is three pieces of technology; a monitor, an earphone, and a speaker. IT’S JUST A PHONE!

I’m still working part-time online so my internet phone was an important part of our luggage.  The home we landed in had just upgraded to PuntoNet’s speedy FIOS service.  Speedy it was, but it didn’t work with my internet phone. I got a dial tone but after making a call I could neither hear nor be heard. The company that makes the phone responded that certain ‘voice ports’ had to be opened, a task which PuntoNet responded would require getting a fixed IP address for an additional $10.00 per month.

This was odd since I had used the same phone in quite a few countries over ten years without upgrading to this special service. We upgraded, but it didn’t help. To be sure it wasn’t my phone, I tried it with a neighbor’s ETAPA service and it worked fine. We also did the reverse and tried his Vonage internet phone with my service and it, too, did not work. So it’s a fair assumption this story could be about any kind of internet phone.

After a lot of complaining, several tech guys from PuntoNet came up to problem solve. They spent quite a few hours to no avail and finally resorted to experimenting on the phone itself, instead of PuntoNet’s ports, by following some YouTube videos. I should have kept a closer eye on them and never allowed this. It only rendered the phone useless, unable to even get a dial tone. The next day their superior came up, did something, and claimed it was fixed. But I had no way of testing since my phone was now permanently bricked. My office in New York shipped me another one, and here’s where the real problems began.

For some strange reason the intern in our office listed the FedEx package contents simply as “documents”. This raised a red flag upon arrival at customs in Guayaquil. They opened it up, claimed it was three pieces of technology; a monitor, an earphone, and a speaker, and demanded I pay a $187.50 fine at Banco Pacifico.

Get the information you need about imports and shipping containers and avoid having to pay extra fees. Contact Relocation Services of Ecuador.

I paid it, but then I learned the phone still couldn’t be delivered since it was used. No used technology is allowed to be shipped into Ecuador. My wife and I spent a few uneasy nights wondering if our somewhat daunting visa process would be sabotaged by this. Would we be viewed by the Ecuadorian government as criminals, caught trying to import illegal goods into the country?  We actually began scoping out towns in Colombia and Peru where we could retire instead, if this were the case, but a letter of mine to customs in Guayaquil was answered with a resounding “no”, this would not harm our visa applications.

But what about the phone?

I speak Spanish pretty fluently thanks to many lengthy periods of residing abroad over the years, so I wrote a lengthy, formal letter to the customs supervisor, complete with all the “estimados” and formal “usted” language, explaining all of this. In the end I offered to swap my bricked phone for the one shipped to me, but the response was a short and sweet “no”, stating that the importation of cell phones into Ecuador is prohibited. I was understandably upset. My office had spent almost $100.00 shipping it to me, I had paid an additional fine of nearly $200.00, and now I wasn’t even going to get the thing.  I fired off a short, four word response, correcting the customs’ letter.  “No es un celular.”

To my surprise the supervisor wrote back with a simple “OK Ray, send me a picture of it and we’ll send it on to Cuenca”.  So in the end I finally did get the darn thing.

Aside from the voice port problems, PuntoNet’s FIOS service is really great.  It’s super speedy and seems to be reliable for the most part, but they do need to address the voice port issue. With so many of us maintaining ties or still working via internet phones, I hope sharing this story is helpful.

As I understand through Cuenca Highlife, ETAPA is now rolling out their own style of FIOS, GPON technology.  I hope they can do so without any voice port problems.

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