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portada de BMM


THE CITY OF KNOWLEDGE
BY
Joan Clos MAYOR OF BARCELONA

The society of knowledge has already become a reality. Mobile telephony and the Internet, the two spearheads of information technologies, are spreading faster and faster within our society and their use is being paralleled by the emergence of new concepts - such as that of "new economy" - which are simply reflecting the changes that those modern technologies are gradually introducing into our life-styles and into our purchasing and working habits.
Such a widespread implantation lies at the root of a debate which is essential for the future of our society : which infrastructures should we provide ourselves with in order to get the maximum advantage from the newest technologies? We are referring to technological infrastructures with the capacity for providing optimum physical support to ensure the smooth running of our communications system. Cable could meet such requirements and more, in terms of both costs and time, and it also has the capacity for guaranteeing access to the new services that the Internet will offer in a near future, when it will start operating in an advanced multimedia format and television will become an interactive instrument.
In the city councils, we are quite aware of how much there is at stake in the correct development of the new information technologies. Their actual level of application as well as the quality of the services made available through that new technological network will be seen as basic indicators of the citizens' standard of living. Not only economic growth, but also many basic services provided by public governing bodies - such as education, health or welfare benefits - will be directly linked with the new possibilities modern information technologies are opening up to us.
We have to conduct the transition from industrial society to information society as efficiently as possible. Therefore, we have to make fundamental decisions, as those concerning the steps to be taken in order to provide the whole country with a solid telecommunications network. And we have to set up a permanent training system that would increase the current percentage - scarcely 20 % - of citizens who have access to that network and make it eventually available to everyone. The social and territorial equilibrium of the new era depends on such decisions.
Cable technology, which incorporates fibre-optic components with a very high capacity for transmitting data, is the infrastructural basis for the development of that advanced telecommunications network. It is an obvious choice not only because of its indisputable technological reliability and capacity for transmitting multimedia data that integrate sound, text and image, but also because of its capacity for connecting with other technological networks so that they might complement each other.
That is the reason why 775 municipalies in Catalonia have joined together to form the "Localret" consortium with a view to ensuring the development of a suitable telecommunications network, and why Catalan city councils are currently making a significant effort to introduce cable technology, even though the required installation works might cause some inconvenience to many citizens who do not yet consider that infrastructure to be as necessary as other utilities such as electricity, gas or telephones. But these actions are based on our strong conviction that this is a worthwhile effort, a decisive step forward in a process aimed at enabling all citizens to be on equal terms where access to the newest technologies is concerned.
The citizens of Catalonia want and expect us to co-ordinate our efforts while developing an overall structure that would truly encourage their integration and active participation in the shaping of a new model of society in which integration and discrimination will largely depend on people's mastery of the application and use of modern technologies, along with their knowledge and skill in selecting information.
Access to existing networks stands more and more clearly as one of the citizens' basic rights and the availability of a powerful communications network is already a sine qua non of a city's economic development.
That is why it is now necessary to throw light upon some questions regarding cable technology that have been raised over the last years. In fact, the use of cable technoloy is a means of guaranteeing fair competition in the sphere of telecommunications by putting an end to all the "de facto" oligopolies and monopolies, thanks to the presence of diverse operators with networks of their own.
At the present time, the essential value-generating factor has less to do with manufacturing capacity - which can be moved from a territory to another - than with knowledge and science which, contrary to what is generally assumed, are not transportable goods. Results from scientific production cannot be formalized in the shape of a mere instruction book. Experience in other cities shows us that the scientific research works carried out in a given region increase the productivity of the companies operating in the surrounding area, but that this beneficial effect decreases in inverse proportion to the distance betweem a company's location and the knowledge-generating centre.
A case in point is the change in attitude that has taken place in corporate Japan, which had for many years appeared to us as a paradigm of the capacity for appropriating what had been created in other countries. Nowadays, in spite of the successive crises it had to undergo, Japan can boast an industry built on a strong and reliable science and research infrastructure.
Barcelona intends to foster the concentration of research and development activities on its metropolitan territory, more particularly in the most competitive industrial sectors, such as those dealing in electronic equipment, publishing, electro-medicine or pharmaceutical products, as well as other technologically advanced sectors.
We are willing to create the conditions necessary to give creative entrepreneurs, no matter where they come from, the opportunity to find a favourable environment in our city and make good use of it to develop their business.
We also want to attract larger multinational companies whose operations are not governed by Spanish state regulations but by the European Union's company law, so that their presence might convert Barcelona into a centre of highly specialized and strategic activities, with a high value added and an innovative content as a centre involved in a wide range of activities: services, research and development, electronic equipment, management or distribution businesses, etc...
All these sectors have something in common: their capacity for generating and capitalizing on knowledge.
However, capitalizing on knowledge is a process that goes beyond the strategies companies might adopt individually. It requires the development of new infrastructures that might allow advances to be made in the sphere of knowledge.
That is the reason why we have been making demands for the improvement of our infrastructures through the modernization of the airport, including the construction of the high speed train terminal; we are taking steps to develop a first-class public transport system and to encourage our universities to play a leading role in the sphere of technological innovation and research. Likewise, our efforts are in large part aimed at providing the city with a reliable cable network, because companies from emergent economic sectors won't be willing to set up operations in our city unless we build a powerful telecommunications network that might serve as the nervous system they need to carry out their activities.
In fact, the new fibre-optic installation projects that are being set in motion in our city are key factors in building up the corporate world's confidence in Barcelona where the use of modern technologies is concerned.
All things considered, full-scale application of cable technology, without excluding any of the options that might contribute to a rapid increase in technological capacity and speed, is the best bet for our city.