portada de BMM


Barcelona now has an optical fibre cable network of almost 600 kilometres. The initiative to lay this network forms part of the city's decision to opt strongly for the new information and communication technologies, which are expected to enable us to advance towards a progressive digitalization of urban life.
The texts appearing on the following pages analyse the impact that optical fibre will have on communications and discuss the alternatives offered by other technologies, the economic implications of the various options in a framework of growing business competition and the problems involved in the extension of the digitalization process throughout Catalonia. There is also a description of certain specific projects for the integral digitalization of the city's physical framework.
There is an analysis of how the permanent connection will affect the economic, cultural and occupational foundations of society, how it will alter the relations between individuals and groups of people and to what extent it can help to reinforce the role of government bodies as service providers.
The birth of virtual urban communities and the growing presence of local authorities on the Internet are the first step in this direction. An initial assessment is made of these experiences in the Barcelona metropolitan area and Catalonia as a whole, together with an account of the necessary conditions for the information technologies to lead to an effective control of government and, ultimately, deeper democracy.


Whenever there is any discussion about the Internet and the new communication networks, there's a tendency to drift into fantasy which I'm beginning to think is quite irrepressible. It's quite normal to make great, grandiloquent statements about it. To proclaim great changes and revolutions. To extrapolate their value and place them at the very centre of the debate about society. To make them into almost the only point of reference for our future. In short, to make a mountain out of a molehill.
Of course, the new forms of communication that we represent, like an icon, with the word "Internet" are extraordinarily important. And of course they involve very substantial changes in our way of life. But technology is just that: technology. And if we focus the debate on issues that have more to do with do-it-yourself, if you'll pardon the expression, perhaps we're missing the crux of the debate - namely, the social implications. There's no call to extrapolate their value, nor of course to belittle it. (...)
Now we are hearing all about - and we're beginning to get to touch - a far more powerful Internet. (...) The possibilities of this network are spectacular, if it's ever deployed. The consequences will therefore also be spectacular.
The way I see it, there is a major change approaching at full speed: the permanent connection. (...)
As things stand at present, it is undeniable that cable, especially if it's good cable, is the best choice by far. (...) This is the mass conduit along which most information will flow. In the current state of affairs some information circulates though newspapers, and its channels of production and distribution are separate from those of television, which is another of the great information circuits, operating basically with waves. And then there's the information and communication we receive over the telephone (...).
All these functions, all these distribution channels, could be unified (or nearly so) through cable. Everything would arrive packed and distributed through one single channel. This means comfort and rationality, but it also creates a need for control in order to avoid abuse.
All the more so considering that, secondly, cable will delimit geopolitical areas. (...) The control of the cable network will be substantial in any community project. And when I say "control" I basically mean the ability to discuss what content will be fed through it, and where the services that the institutions and the market choose to offer will be made available. (...)
The city, in our case Barcelona, will change at the rate dictated by the communications network. (...) There will be upheavals demanding a great deal of rationality. (...) The cultural and national diversity of our neighbours will be extraordinary and unforeseeable. Communication (and education with it!) is the main tool that will enable us to invent a new collective identity for ourselves, based on what we are and open to cross-cultural mixes. Indeed, Barcelona will have to keep its gaze trained not just beyond the bounds of Catalonia and Spain, but even beyond those of Europe. Because we'll have to be competitive on a worldwide scale. And attractive too. (...)
Cable should be laid fast, and we're doing pretty badly on that score. Cable is being laid exasperatingly slowly, and there are signs that it won't reach everywhere it's supposed to. But at the same time as we exert pressure to solve this, we should think about everything that this deployment is bringing about in our society, and dare to discuss its implications, looking not at the technology but at the consequences of the technology (...).


To dig or not to dig? To dig and lay optical fibre underground as the "strategy" to provide an advanced telecommunications infrastructure? Or to rethink the options currently being deployed and accept that there are alternatives that don't require it?
The persistent discussion regarding the deployment of cable in the Catalan regions have recently been rekindled by a fierce controversy as to the technological suitability of this type of infrastructure. (...)
At present we can identify three elements that form part of the attributes delimiting the range of products of the actors that are competing to dominate this market: telephony, Internet and TV. They don't all offer the same. They don't all target the same markets, although sometimes it might seem that way. And most importantly, they're not all subject to the same regulation and commitments.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Development are currently in the process of changing the cable concessions into type B1 licences (i.e., for network communications). This is causing both the cable operators and Telefónica de España to push for a reinterpretation of the commitments acquired regarding the original concessions. (...)
The government presented the white paper on cable telecommunications in January 1995. The aim of this white paper was to break Telefónica's monopoly in the sphere of cable telecommunications service provision, and to establish the regional areas of service provision.
Finally, after a long process of negotiations, amendments and debates, parliament passed Law 42/1995, of 22 December, on Cable Telecommunications, the regulatory framework that sets forth the conditions for the introduction of a telecommunications network other than Telefónica's (...).
Yet what was behind the fact that the legal figure employed was that of the "administrative concession"? (...) Although Law 42/1995 allowed for a second cable network, different from that of Telefónica, it still stopped short of opening up the telecommunications network to full free competition (...).
The appearance of technological alternatives to cable networks as fixed telecommunication infrastructures has introduced a new area for reflection and business ventures that has generated a great deal of controversy on the market. (...)
Opening up the market to new players (...) has created new spaces for competition. In this context, and under heavy pressure in the form of investment and deployment commitments, the market has begun to acquire new dimensions, such as a growing demand for the generation of new revenue from taxes on the basis of a revised taxation system (...) and also the need to ensure the base technologies for each different deployment.
And the outcome of all this? Telefónica de España have announced that they are abandoning the cable option, on the grounds that "coaxial cable is a technology of the past" (...) Xavier Marcet, general manager of the Localret consortium, which groups together 767 town councils from all over Catalonia, provides an alternative reading: "The reason Telefónica are not opting heavily for the extension of optical fibre to the user is that they are afraid of parasites; that is, of being forced to share it with other operators, as occurred with the local loop".
Nevertheless, at practically the same time (27 October 2000), Telefónica signed an agreement with the Catalan government and Localret guaranteeing investment of 50,000 million pesetas for 2001 in order to ensure that the ADSL network will reach 92% of the Catalan population. (...)
And the cable operators? Menta are preparing claims to justify their action in the (likely) event of the network failing to reach certain areas within the agreed period. (...) At the same time, a new operator, Flash10, has appeared on the scene with plans to lay optical fibre cable in a total of 32 Catalan towns with under 50,000 inhabitants (...). Meanwhile, those operators that are equipped to deploy the new LMDS networks (...) are carrying on with their work. (...) As for the mobile operators, competition is already keen in the new GPRS networks market (...).
The situation is very different in the area of the third generation: the UMTS networks. (...) A conservative reading of the current situation in this environment leads us to believe that UMTS will not be available in real terms on a sufficiently commercial scale until 2003 or 2004 (...)
The discussions generated around the issue of the suitability of cable networks in all cases smack strongly of competition. However, it is certainly true the original appeal of cable, from the operators' point of view, has been eroded by the appearance of alternatives in the field of television (a major slice of the business) in the form of satellite TV and digital TV.
The capacities of each of the networks examined are not always directly comparable. (...). What we are really dealing with is a series of commercial products that are intended to cover a market by generating the most significant barriers to competition (...).
Localret, the consortium that represents the Catalan local authorities on this issue, defends a pragmatic position: they feel that cable is the most promising technology for the future, but they are keen to take advantage of any other technology that would reduce the opportunity cost incurred by many regions if cable were to arrive there late or not at all (...).

Francesc Solé Parellada PROFESSOR AT UPC

(...) The concept of the city is far from simple. (...) In the life of humans, cities are more recent than they might seem. The appearance of cities is inseparable from the horizontal-complex specialization that humans adopted only when the stages of nomadism and primitive agricultural settlements had passed. The trading city, the city as a dominant power, the city as a castle or protection, the city of craftsmen, the industrial city and so on, are all forms that the city offers for the organization of cities at a particular time, and that change the nature of the city itself... And now, what the organization of society demands is multiple and extremely complicated, so we should hardly be surprised if the same is true of the city.
However, in our search for an approach that will enable us to work on the relationship between the city, innovation and knowledge, we observe that the city is where the problems to be solved with regard to almost all humanity come to the surface. (...)
Another possible approach is suggested by Manuel Castells's phrase "Cities are the space of flows". Thus, the city is where exchange takes place. On this basis, we could certainly study the consequences of the new information and communication technologies, but I'm not so sure that this viewpoint is specific enough to allow us to draw any conclusions. (...)
Lastly, another possible approach is that of the reduction of the immaterial to the material. (...) The city as a place of exchange, residence and human activity is by definition the genuine expression of what is human, in other words, what is essentially local. (...)
Of these three approaches, the first - that of the influence exerted by the new economy on the present problems of the city - is the most urban/human, and the other two - that of the city as a place for the interrelation of human capital and that of the city as a place for the materialization of the economic fact (and therefore of the creation of wealth) - are more economistic, along the line of guaranteeing prosperity and/or continuity in the territory of the urban/human partnership.
Yet none of the above changes the formulation of the central question: is it true to say that in the 21st century the appearance of the knowledge, technology and innovation society poses new challenges for the city in the form of notable changes in its functions and structure? (...)
The New Information and Communication Technologies (NICT), for example, are not just the expression of a new economic sector; their influence on the nature of inter-company and intra-company economic relations fully justifies their being described as the agent of a veritable technological and economic revolution. Furthermore, the NICT are beginning to change the nature of relations between humans, and perhaps their location in cities. (...)
The relationship between technological innovation and the city provides a fourth approach. (...) The idea would be to create an image of the transformation of the city on the basis of inventions and then, if the opportunity arises, look for the sociological and behavioural consequences, rather like a rehash of Blade Runner.
The knowledge society is an expression that has served us to describe a novel situation: knowledge has become the most important factor for a business enterprise. Or to say the same thing in another way, we humans have suddenly found ourselves confronted with an economy based on knowledge. (...)
And so we come to the fifth analytical approach. (...) This approach is that of the extended innovative environment, and as such is not disassociable with how this production and administration should be managed and administrated with the necessary governance. (...)

Vicente Guallart ARCHITECT

The information society potentially allows the development of different models of public space, depending on the culture and the urban tradition of the society in which it develops.
(...) Can Barcelona promote a model for the definition of the public environments that belong to this new technological and cultural situation? I believe it can. The first approximation to the relationship between information and the public space was infrastructural, when the city's cable network began to be laid: a network that is to reach homes across streets in order to provide new services. The surprising thing is that the streets it crosses won't be any different for it. (...) The interaction in public spaces of the physical and the digital, function and content, is one of the options that must be given high priority by those cities that wish to be at the ideological and strategic forefront of urban design in coming years. (...)
In this situation, is any strategy possible in the form of public action? Certainly it is. The answer to this situation is to hybridize the physical and the digital, the public and the private. To make the actual physical world the best interface for us to relate to the digital world. To make architecture and space replace the screen and the mouse. To let interaction occur on the scale of the dwelling, the building and the city. We have to totally integrate architecture, which is lifeless, with contents and knowledge. (...)
Intelligence, or computational capacity, should reach spaces, objects and people, and encourage the interaction between these three groups to create a new relationship between the local (the physical world) and the global (information processing), making man the hub of this process.
Who should lead this new strategy in the urban environment? Is there R&D in city design? Too often, politics is far removed from the risk that innovation involves. Yet if a city wants to be the "city of knowledge", shouldn't innovation and research one of its main work methods? (...)
The more innovative cities like Barcelona are aware of this need for change, and are in the process of assuming the necessity to test the "re-information" of the urban space in real situations. Innovation is always the role of leaders. And in today's global marketplace, architecture and the design of urban space is one of Barcelona's best products. (...)
Today's intelligent dwellings will become tomorrow's network of places where people live their lives (including the car, the workplace and places for leisure), in a process whereby computers will be replaced by a "connected environment".
Furthermore, the re-information of buildings assumes that the building is sensitive to its surroundings, and as such organizes its interaction with the urban ecosystem sustainably. (...)
For public space, re-information means that each new street that is urbanized has to be prepared to reflect (and reflect itself in) the virtual world. (...) Moreover, a public space of this type allows for new relationships between organic elements - trees and plants - in such a way that they respond to more than just an urban logic (alignment, perspective, repetition), and instead follow their own logic. It also actively assimilates the climatic and atmospheric phenomena around it, producing the energy it consumes. (...)
The industrial society brought about a transformation that was aimed at achieving a minimum quality for a maximum number of people, both in the city as a whole and in each dwelling. The information society must seek maximum quality for all those places it transforms.


In the digital age, the mission of local authorities will continue to be to lead, govern and administer the city. The forms whereby they carry out that mission will undergo profound changes, but the mission itself will remain the same. The city council will change more as an organization than as an institution. (...) The creation of public value will depend on new management paradigms and a new conception of governability.
One of the main functions of our local authorities is to represent; one of the pillars of democracy rests on this. The representation of its citizens is at the same time the symbol of the management of the local identity that the city seeks to project and aspires to encompass, past and present, people and places. (...)
Physically, the limits of the city are increasingly difficult to define. On the network, the city exists insofar as it is present in the information nodes that make it up. The Internet is at the same time a new space within the city and a new space in which to insert and design the city. (...)
Local authorities govern from a position of proximity (access, pressure, interrelation) with their citizens, whether they like it or not. The information and communication technologies will allow a new management of this proximity with people and places alike. (...)
(...) The information and communication technologies constitute a basic tool for the improvement of decision-making processes. Their capacity to explore huge amounts of internal and external information intelligently means that more and better quality information than ever before is now available for decision-making. (...)
In the decision-making process it is key to know the citizens' opinions. The possibilities offered by technology for individualized relations between citizens and authorities will continue to grow. In this way, intermediaries between the citizen and local government will serve more to encourage debate and influence citizens' opinions than to represent them symbolically. Citizens will make contact with or avoid social intermediaries depending on their criteria and interests. (...)
Clearly, the use of information and communication technologies can provide citizen debates with a greater volume of information and a greater degree of interactivity between the parties involved in projects or conflicts. Debate in the digital age can be of a higher quality (...) if the necessary political culture exists to push it forward and give it vitality. The introduction of technology can only improve democracy if behind the computers there are people with awareness of and commitment with their role as citizens. (...)
The axiom leading to this new relationship between government and citizens with a view to better quality decision-making is digital cohesion. Unless we manage to avoid widening the digital gap, not only will we be unable to produce a significant improvement in the participation/quality decision-making binomial but moreover we will increase social inequalities and split the possibilities of political participation. (...)
The Internet will not only be the medium for communicating with citizens but also an extraordinary tool for municipal management. The ability to make polyhedral use of the pillars of local information - data relating to space (the property register, land divisions), people and businesses - will make for a thorough reengineering of management processes. (...)
The other great revolution has to do with the need to connect government bodies in order to provide the citizen with an integrated service. The local authorities of the future won't require citizens to go from one administrative body to another with proof, for example, that they are up to date with tax payments or that they are registered in such-and-such a municipality. (...)
One of the most interesting possibilities of digital local authorities is the way they can improve their relationship with their citizens. Technology will enable a letter about services or obligations to be much more personalized and interactive between the citizen and the local authority. (...)
There is one point in which the initiative of local authorities can bring together two areas that are at present wide apart and in some cases even opposed: citizen participation and economic promotion. Until now, citizen participation has always been understood basically as a matter of organizing the process of transferring the opinion of citizens to government bodies. Occasionally it goes further, and there are forms of participation that involve co-responsibility in management or forms of explicit volunteership.
In the information society, the challenge for local authorities is how to dynamize the knowledge held by citizens to the benefit of all; to make a public asset out of the knowledge produced by the community itself. (...)


The Internet offers a new channel for the democratic participation of citizens. The Internet is a means of communicating, but it is also a new meeting place for a great number of groups and society in general in which debate and participation are possible. Taking this premise as our point of departure, we will analyse three areas in which this participation is already present: government, political activity and civil society. (...)
(...) As organizations that base their processes on information, government bodies will experience two extraordinary revolutions: information management systems and electronic access and monitoring of this management by users. (...)
The development of these services has ceased to be a mere option for improvement and has become a strategic option for government. In Catalonia, Localret and the Catalan government promoted a strategic plan called Catalunya en Xarxa ("Networking Catalonia"), and now Localret is promoting around a dozen master plans for the information society at a local level. Several Catalan cities have set up their own master plans or are at the production stage. (...)
In the area of political participation, the uses that have been developed most in the Catalan government are chiefly related to information services. Generally speaking, there are few examples of everyday interaction between the political system and citizens, although the presence of the Internet in the Catalan government is approaching a high level of normalization. (...)
Municipal websites are the best example to show the use and the limits of participation in government via the Internet. At first, they carried information about the town council and, at most, in some cases the municipal action programme. Later, they began to incorporate information about the agreements reached by the governing bodies. At present there is a growing tendency to publish information before decisions are taken, for example the agenda of the governing bodies. At present there is a growing tendency to publish information before decisions are taken, for example the agenda of the governing bodies. (...) At a municipal level, the most advanced initiatives for participation are those linked to the possibility of voicing opinions on decision-making processes.
Political parties have also become part of the net. (...) All the Catalan parties are present, yet they all suffer from the same participatory shortcomings as government: a lot of information, little communication and no transaction. (...)
The most successful experience of political participation in Catalonia is undoubtedly Democràcia.web, a scheme aimed at electronic democracy and centred on the Parliament of Catalonia. For over two years (it was started up in June 1998), this project has sought to put within reach of the citizen all the information about parliamentary activity and facilitate maximum communication between society and the political class, with the ultimate aim of increasing citizen participation. (...)
No one doubts the technical potential of the Internet or its universal implementation, but rather, whether this potential will yield qualitatively better results when applied to political decision-making. Neither can the Internet, in itself or in its application to political activity, be expected to mend all the evils we find in democratic systems. The trust placed in the Internet must therefore be limited in this respect. (...)
Civil society, on the other hand, is using the Internet as a predominant channel for participation, action and organization. The phenomenon of community networking is the most significant development in this direction. (...)
The first network of this type to exist in Spain was TINET (www.tinet.org). It was set up in 1995 at Rovira i Virgili University, but subsequently taken over by the municipal City of Tarragona Foundation. After TINET came BCNet (www.bcnet.upc.es/), promoted by the Technical University of Catalonia, Callús (www.pangea.org/callus/), CornellàNet (www.cornella.net), VallesNet (www.vallesnet.org) and others. (...) Lastly, it should be mentioned that in November 2000 Barcelona hosted the First Global Congress on Community Networking (www.cnglobal2000.org), CN2000, and the city will be the headquarters of the Global Congress Network Partnership, an international umbrella organization for virtual communities all over the world. (...)