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I’m constantly amazed by the ability to turn automation into something manual here. Usually I welcome technology as a harbinger  of efficiency, a time-saver in many cases, something that might reduce friction a bit in a business transaction and make one’s life a little easier.

In Ecuador, it doesn’t always work out that way. I’ve probably discussed more than once how even the Internet has been turned into something that adds another layer of bureaucracy and friction to getting things done here. Or getting access to the Internet for banking or other services may be even more difficult than using the service itself, requiring reams of paper and signatures before being handed maybe a USB token or series of passwords, in an office somewhere out of the way, that you have to visit in person.

This must contribute to the high costs of so many things here in Ecuador. Because in so many cases, instead of just having a person do what a person could do alone, they add a machine to do it, then add a person to run that machine.

In this photo, we’re looking at a ticket line at Movistar, one of Ecuador’s main cell phone service companies.

They’ve installed an automated kiosk, with a touch screen for several options depending on the type of service you need.

However, instead of letting the public actually use the touch screen, they’ve hired someone to touch the touch screen for you, and then also write down the nature of your inquiry by hand into a notebook! At which point you are then delivered a slip of paper with your number on it, which will eventually show up on one of the flat-screen panels throughout the office when your turn comes up.

Perhaps they had too many problems initially with people not being able to use the automated kiosk-this wouldn’t surprise me as human interaction is the norm, not the exception in Ecuador, and most people just aren’t used to having a machine handle their requests. But hey, what can I do? It is what it is.

Today just got a major slap in the face. That is, another wake up call. Called on just how many hassles you can face in Ecuador-though many are, most of the time, avoidable, they sure are ugly when they hit you in the face.

First, Banco Pichincha, one of Ecuador’s major banks, has had its online transfer service, down for  the last 4 days. The service allows you to move money from one account in one bank to another account in another bank-great for making payments. Of course, they don’t announce this to anyone-I only figured it out by using the online chat service. I’m late on my homeowner’s association fees because of this.

So I figured I’d go to a cash machine and withdraw the cash, then go to Produbanco, another major Ecuadorian bank, to pay the dues. Well, the Banco de Pichincha cash machine was down. So I go to another bank’s cash machine. But it will only let me make withdrawls in $100 amounts, at $0.50 a pop. So I make two withdrawls-I needed $300 but the daily limit is $200. So someone else is going to get paid late.

We then go to a Produbanco branch at the Supermaxi-Ecuador’s chain of supermarkets. But, that branch, I learn, only accepts deposits for personal accounts, but not for business accounts. I head out to the other branch and the line is literally over 50 people or more long, and it’s already 4 p.m. I guess that payment will just have to wait too, that’s two people paid late…like so many things in Ecuador, you need a lot of patience to live here.

There are a couple of options for mobile Internet service in Ecuador.

If you’re here just a few weeks or months and not permanently setting up house somewhere, I’d recommend the USB dongle for wireless service from Movistar, the country’s main cell phone provider. I haven’t tried Claro’s service, but many say the cellphone service is better than Movistar’s, so my guess is their wireless Internet service can’t be too bad.

I had my first experience with it just a few weeks ago on our trip to the beach. It’ll get reception anywhere there’s cell phone service. We even carry the dongle in the car now when going and coming from Quito. Stuck in traffic and you need to work-especially handy when someone else is driving. Pull out the laptop and work away!

You can pick one up at just about any of the Movistar or Claro stores throughout Quito and the country. They are not hard to find. Service is pretty efficient.

Paid $69 for the 3.5G modem-they also have 4G for $110, which is even faster and has 500 MB thrown in free at the start, but the 3.5G was more than adequate for my needs and worked great for email and general web surfing. I think it’s $3 for 1 GB of downloading, and you can fill up your assigned cell number for the SIM card at just about any pharmacy, grocery store, or mom and pop shop in under a minute.

Without a plan, your download limit of 1 GB is good for 30 days, if I understood correctly. So you can refill for just $3, and 1GB can easily last several days or weeks if you only login when needed. I later realized I could have bought the $30 modem online-but here they won’t sell you just the SIM card for the modem as far as I know, so there’s no cheaper alternative but to pay the one time fee and buy the Movistar or Claro branded USB modem.

They tell you the software preinstalled on the modem only works on a Mac pre-Lion, suggesting that the dongle won’t work on a newer Mac. This much is true-the software does not work on a Mac. But I plugged the modem into my MacBook Pro, opened up Network Preferences and added a new service using the “default” configuration, it recognized the modem and I was good to go. On a late 2006 white Macbook, it would not recognize the modem and it woudn’t work.

Later on we’ll discuss fixed line Internet services in Ecuador for home or office-CNT, the national phone company’s service, and TV Cable, the cable company’s internet service.

Welcome to Destination Ecuador!

Welcome to Destination Ecuador! My family and I have been living in Ecuador for the last four and a half years. We’ve dealt with the worst kinds of red-tape, searched out or ended up making hard-to-find ingredients ourselves, imported equipment for making chocolate confections, learned the import-export business...Continue >>


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