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
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
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
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
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
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.