Public Internet access in Catalonia

Manuel Sanromà (*) and Juan Manel Gómez
Fundació Universitaria Ciutat de Tarragona
Tarragona, SPAIN
(*) Computer Engineering Department, University of Tarragona

(anar a la versió catalana)


We introduce TINET (Tarragona InterNET), an experience of public Internet access in Tarragona, Catalonia (Spain). The experience is funded by the Local Council and several other public and private organizations. In its two months of activity it is gaining momentum and it is introducing the Information Society into the homes and companies of the region. Here, we discuss the lessons we have learned from this (still short) experience and present new developments that we are currently planning associated with it.

Introduction: Internet in Spain

As in most other countries, Internet was first introduced in Spain in the Universities. RedIris, the Spanish Educational Network is still, by far, responsible for most of the traffic, servers and users of the Net in Spain. Nonetheless, in the last two years (and obviously most particularly during the present year) commercial and governmental use of the Internet has started to grow. Today, Internet providers in Spain can be counted in dozens, while several Governmental organizations, both at the State and Local level are starting to put information and services on the Net. There is, however, one major drawback for the development of the Net; the administrative division of Spain into 50 provinces is mirrored by the fare structure of the only telephone company in the country, Telefónica. Phone rates for provincial calls are about ten times more expensive than those for local area calls while province to province calls can grow to thirty times. With this situation only inhabitants of major cities have had the real opportunity to become "internauts". It seems that the situation will dramatically change in the next few weeks, since Telefónica has announced a new service by which citizens in any part of the country will be able to reach its Internet provider at local area call rates; if this becomes a reality 96 will certainly be the "Internet Year" in Spain.

Spain is a multicultural and multilingual State. This fact has a great influence on the development of the Internet in several regions of Spain. This is particularly true for Catalonia, the autonomous region in North Eastern Spain, with its own culture, traditions and, most important, its own language spoken by more than 6 million people. Here, cultural and economic reasons have lead to an even more pronounced development of the Internet than in the rest of Spain . The Generalitat de Catalunya, the autonomous Government of the region, has a great interest in the development of telecommunications in the country, having a special care for the presence of its language, Catalan, in the Net. Moreover, the income rate of the region is the highest in Spain and industry and commerce are the most important activities in Catalonia.

TINET: the first experience of public Internet access in Spain

Tarragona, a small city (100.000 inhabitants), 100 km south of Barcelona, is capital of one of the four provinces into which Catalonia is administratively divided. Tourism (favoured by the second most important Theme Park in Europe), Industry and Commerce (favoured by one of the most important harbours in the Mediterranean) are the main activities of the province with its 600.000 inhabitants. Tarragona also has a University where the technologies associated with the growth of the Internet have been known and used for several years, especially in its Computer Engineering Department (hereafter DEI).

Early this year one of the authors, who is Head of the DEI, started to work also as Manager of a small Foundation, the Fundació Universitaria Ciutat de Tarragona (hereafter FUT), set up by the Ajuntament (Local Council) of Tarragona. The main objective of this Foundation is to link the University with the local society, by transfering the technological and cultural values of the University to the citizens and raising funds and energies from the society for the University. With the cooperation of several members of the University we thought that TINET would be a project that would suit these purposes.

TINET (Tarragona InterNET) has as its main objective the bringing of the Information Society to the citizens of Tarragona, with its organizations and companies. At the beginning this is expressed by the following services (intended for the citizens of the province of Tarragona): TINET started operating in the first week of last October, and in two months nearly five hundred users (including nearly one hundred NPO's and companies) have become internauts. For the time being the Local Council has provided the funds to start operation, but for 1996 an agreement has been signed for funding TINET (always under the technical organization of the FUT) involving the following organizations: TINET has received much attention from the media in Catalonia (obviously including several Web's) since it is the first experience of this kind in Spain. By now several discussion lists have been established, which are heavily used by the citizens. When the Local Council announced the existence of its first E-mail address it was flooded with messages congratulating it but also asking for the creation of a Web server with services for the citizens.

The next steps

At the time of writing several projects are on the way concerning the development of TINET:

Discussion and Conclusions

In its short life TINET has started a still small but powerful revolution in our community. After the first weeks' explosion there is now a steady growth that will most likely reach a significant part of the society.

One important aspect of this revolution is its social aspect. Many citizens have offered their cooperation spontaneously for the development of TINET. An initial sense of excitement with the easy availability of the new technologies is followed by spontaneous suggestions of new developments and services that could be offered; many times the same proposers offer their cooperation for this purpose. On the other hand, people are asking the administration (Local) to use this technology and to offer them new services through its use.

Participation in local discussions lists is active. This is not new to any community net: people like to surf the cyberspace but are more interested in having their local environment also put into cyberspace. On the other hand NPO's and companies (made up also of individuals!) have a greater inertia. The level at which these new and powerful (and not expensive!) technologies are widely unknown to many companies, not only SMC's, is amazing. It is clear that as long as individuals get to realize the impact of the Information Society this will reach the world of SMC's, but certainly in this field there is much work to be done.

TINET has been set up as an experiment that, in its current status, will last at least one year. In the world of the Internet, and of the communication technologies, one year is a long time. It is difficult to foresee where this experience will lead us in this period. But we are positively sure that TINET will help our community into the Information Society

Manuel Sanromà (msanroma@tinet.fut.es)
Juan Manel Gómez (jmgomez@tinet.fut.es)

November 1.995