The challenge of the Catalan-speaking internet after Covid-19 and the role of .cat
The Covid-19 crisis has led to the unexpected rise in telework and internet-based communications between people, companies and their clients, the authorities and citizens, or schools and universities and their students. In this sudden situation, the digital identity and existence of a famous, prestigious community in the world of internet domains, such as .cat, forms the mainstay for the reconstruction that will be needed at economic, social and cultural level after the health crisis we are still suffering.
Established 15 years ago this year, the .cat Foundation, a private non-profit organisation without any political affiliation, manages over 110,000 domains that cover a large part of the websites and portals in the Catalan language, and has provided its users with a greater service than ever recently – in some cases essential services that have helped save lives, contain the infection, and structure the public and civil response to this pandemic. The solvency of this digital world around the .cat domain and the spread of mobile apps and other digital tools beyond the internet is seen at a strategic time for the .cat Foundation, which seeks to become a benchmark in the Catalan-speaking internet once the rigour and good management of the .cat and .barcelona domains has been proven.
The .cat Foundation has stood out for a while in different aspects that have now become more important with the coronavirus crisis. On one hand, internet access for small enterprises and groups that had not yet taken the leap with their own identity and digital tools, apart from the more informal social networks, enabling them to improve results and the quality of their relationship with customers. Now more than ever, this line of support is essential in light of the economic shock caused by the shutdown of business in many sectors since the state of emergency was declared.
The Foundation manages the .cat domain on the understanding that it is a top-level geographic domain that, as well as being global like the generic .org, .net and .com, is also a cultural, local domain. It is this duality that enables .cat to connect with the world and also with us and our nearest socioeconomic environment. The coronavirus crisis has made this local character even more visible by providing, for example, internet access for small enterprises, shops and groups located in Catalan-speaking regions that had not yet taken the leap on the internet, with their own website and training to maintain the pages created.
The .cat Foundation as an organisation at the service of the Catalan internet community seeks to play a clearly facilitating role in support of the Catalan economy of the small and medium-sized enterprise, as well as the self-employed and entrepreneurs requiring a strong, recognised digital identity. This commitment is nothing new and, as well as the digitalisation of companies, .cat has been involved in an area that has also been suddenly transformed over the past few weeks: education. The .cat Foundation has promoted the wapps .cat competitions, with thousands of students taking part in this project over the past 10 years, along with digital training for teaching staff.
Another area in which .cat has recently worked since Autumn 2017 is that of individual and collective freedoms on the internet. Following the random closure of websites in 2017, and more recently following the sentence issued by the Supreme Court of Justice and the reactions of citizens in Catalonia, the .cat Foundation has promoted technique and legal action to prevent any website from being closed or censured for strictly ideological reasons, provided the international requirements and standards to have an internet domain such as .cat or .barcelona are met.
.cat has also sought to lead the debate and reflection on the democratic guarantees and how to preserve the freedoms of citizens at a time when some leaders – and this can be seen clearly worldwide – might be tempted to regulate or reduce the freedom of expression or exercise unaccepted governmental control in terms of democratic quality in response to the spread of fake news and other malpractice. The crisis caused by Covid-19 and the response that some countries have adopted in the digital environment, limiting freedoms and controlling the information and data of users, shows that a watchful, vigilant .cat Foundation that promotes guarantees with the best of the Catalan internet community at heart. Along these lines, public debates and reflection are organised to adapt the commitment of .cat to today’s circumstances. We have the experience of .cat behind us as we defend owners of .cat domains to ensure they have prestige and a personal, business or institutional brand associated to the credibility that is so necessary at a time when anonymity could fuel the mistrust that reigns over the internet due to fake news.
The .cat Foundation ensures digital rights and the Catalan-speaking internet. An example of this observation activity was the analysis of the general situation of internet connectivity and the damage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Region of Valencia, based on data provided by Ookla by way of a partnership agreement valid until 31st December 2020, which also includes Andorra and Northern Catalonia.
Through our independent action and to help the Catalan community on the internet, the .cat Foundation seeks to reinforce its role as a facilitator, to guarantee internet solvency and debate regarding the threat to individual and collective freedoms in the digital environment. We believe this to be the best way of contributing towards the reconstruction of our community, which may or may not be digital.
Carles Salvadó Usach
Chairman of the .cat Foundation