Communications

Closing out the series on utilities, let’s talk television, telephone, and internet.

First, you have to understand that every country has rules and regulations (i.e., laws) on who can broadcast what within their borders. These rules go back to the dawn of the broadcast radio era, then were broadened and reinforced when television was invented. Cable television was a challenge to these rules, but could be accomodated. Satellite and streaming blow the national rules apart. So while it may be illegal for a US firm to broadcast its signals into Mexico, it is not your fault if you receive them. And if someone else receives a signal and resells it to you, they may be liable, but you probably are not. Perfectly clear? No, of course not, but this is useful background to understand the details I will cover now.

In Mexico, you can sign up for Mexican cable and satellite services as well as receive signals over-the-air. What you will get are channels in packages designed for the Mexican mass market, with some English language channels thrown in. If that does not satisfy your needs, you can buy a satellite dish from a US or Canadian provider and install it in Mexico; there are experts here waiting to assist you. The service provider is not supposed to provide service in Mexico, but they cannot control where you pick up their signal. If you let them know you are in Mexico, they will cancel your service, but if you don’t, you just pay them as you would if your home was in Toronto or Tampa. Sometimes the geography can pose complications. I hear that Shaw (a major Canadian satellite provider) is switching to a new satellite which is difficult to target from Mexico. Likewise, some packages available in the States may not be available in Mexico (I still don’t know exactly why). You can get a basic channel package for less than $100 dollars a month, which gets you the major networks, sports, and entertainment channels.

If you have a decent internet connection, you can watch television with devices such as Roku, Amazon Firestick, or Kodi, etc. These are vehicles to access content on the internet, which may require additional costs for the actual service provider (think Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, etc.). In some cases you just buy these services, but in some cases those pesky national laws interfere and you need a IP masker which fools the internet into thinking you are in whatever country you choose. Some enterprising individuals will also sell unlimited pay services which they are accessing and retransmitting. These deals are usually “too good to be true” in that they are violations of the copy- and broadcast-rights of the original service provider.  Service providers and access devices makers work together to shut down such pirate resellers, resulting in spotty service. Costs for streaming are very a la carte, meaning prices are all over the map and depend on what level of quality and access you desire.

Speaking of the interwebs, rural Mexico is where the US was 10 years ago. The main provider is TelMex, the phone system, in competition with Mexican cable providers like IZZI and Telecable. Most access is shared, meaning high-usage periods result in slow service, which is generally neither particularly high-speed nor consistent. We have 10 MBs download with about .5 MB upload via TelMex, sufficient to watch TV/streaming. There is a high-speed, fiber-optic cable system considering running direct service to our area this year, which would be a significant leap forward (say 50-75 MBs in a basic package). Some satellite internet service is available, but very expensive.  Despite this, many expats who work on the internet find ways to obtain sufficient bandwidth to work from lakeside.

The phone system in Mexico was only deregulated recently, so change is underway. Previously Telmex was a subsidiary (and a near monopoly) under América Móvil, which belongs to Carlos Slim; depending on his holdings and the value of the Peso, he is either the richest or one of the richest people on the planet on any given day. A basic landline or simple cell plan is very cheap, and often includes free calls to the US. Some expats keep their US cell plans, although if you use all your data continuously outside the States, they might cancel on you. Many expats use free or low-cost VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) systems such as Vonage or MagicJack. Different from the States, many Mexicans use WhatsApp, an asynchronous messaging application which permits voice, text, photo or video sharing either over cell data or wifi.

Phew! That is a lot to digest, and more importantly, it is changing all the time, so consider this a snapshot at best. The short version is: like most things, basic communications service in Mexico is inexpensive. As an expat, you can access most anything communications-wise you want to in Mexico, but it may not be easy or cheap.

But they still don’t have “any stinkin’ badges!”

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