October 11, 2017
By Emily F. Keller
Washington and New Mexico Legislators Announce Smart Cities Bill

A new federal bill could bring millions of dollars to municipalities of all sizes to facilitate the adoption of new technologies such as sensors, traffic management systems and environmental monitors, while replacing aging infrastructure.

On October 2, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-WA), and Congressman Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) proposed the Smart Cities and Communities Act of 2017. The bill, H.R. 3895 or S. 1904, would provide $220 million per year, for five years, to fund city government projects, improve federal coordination of smart city programs, enhance cybersecurity and data privacy protections, develop best practices, and support international cooperation and standards. These advancements are intended to improve health, quality of life, energy efficiency, mobility, and safety; reduce pollution and traffic congestion; and promote economic growth and job creation.

== Components of the Bill ==

Annual funding allocations for fiscal years 2018 through 2022 consist of the following:

  • $100 million to create a demonstration grant program supporting the development of smart city technologies and systems that are scalable to cities of various sizes, including measurement standards for assessing performance improvements.
  • $100 million to create a TechHire Workforce Training and Development pilot program that would provide grants of up to $5,000 for training and education programs.
  • $20 million for grants, contracts, public-private partnerships or competitions to support a global marketplace based on voluntary, technology-neutral standards; and to connect industry, academia and government entities to advance technological innovation.

The bill establishes two groups: 1. A federal Smart Cities Council made up of government and industry members to prioritize activities that demonstrate scalable technologies, encourage sharing of data and best practices, and support private sector innovation through open platforms, interoperability and technology-neutral requirements. 2. A Cyber Security Working Group representing consumer groups, manufacturers, law enforcement and various units of government, to evaluate and guard against threats.

The following public resources would be created:

  • A U.S. Government Accountability Office study on financing and procurement mechanisms for smart city or community programs; including demonstrations of “pay for performance” financing for programs with measurable benefits, innovative or experimental mechanisms, barriers to financial solutions, and opportunities to leverage private sector investments.
  • A resource guide containing technical assistance, research, funding and training programs provided by the federal government, examples of smart city programs such as public-private partnership models, best practices in cybersecurity and data management, and barriers to technology adoption.
  • A framework created by the Department of Commerce and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to provide consensus-based recommendations for standards development to support economic competiveness and interoperability of devices and systems, including guidelines for data collection, storage, sharing and ownership.

The bill would also establish an international trade program including missions to promote U.S. technologies and identify potential partners in business, academia and government in other nations, and to assist in reaching commitments in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Responsibility for carrying out the tasks involved is centered in the Department of Commerce and spread across the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Labor, and State, working with the National Science Foundation.

== Sponsors and Advocates ==

Congresswoman DelBene is the Co-founder and Co-Chair of the Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things, and an advocate for data privacy and WiFi accessibility for underserved communities. She said in a statement, “At a time when so much of the public discourse is about supporting the jobs of tomorrow and making government work for the citizens it serves, the chance to build smart communities in every corner of America should be something we can all agree on. The investments and policy improvements we propose here can improve the quality of life in our communities, reduce pollution and spur job-growth in 21st century jobs.”

Congressman Luján, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and founder of the Technology Transfer Caucus, noted the importance of extending funds to both small and large communities. “Our legislation will help guarantee that smaller and rural communities aren’t left behind and will prevent the creation of a new digital divide by testing smart infrastructure solutions in communities of all sizes,” he said.

Senator Cantwell, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, emphasized the importance of replacing outdated infrastructure with new technologies. “The bill makes this technology accessible to local governments so they can make smart investments that attract businesses, create jobs, and improve critical infrastructure while boosting services, livability and the health of residents,” she said in a press release.

Michael Mattmiller, Chief Technology Officer for the City of Seattle, said he looks forward to seeing more communities implement projects such as the Array of Things, an urban sensor network created by Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago that has a local partnership with the City of Seattle and the University of Washington.

“Technologies from low cost sensors to real-time data analytics are helping cities like Seattle operate more efficiently, create economic opportunities, and improve their communities’ quality of life. This legislation will help more local governments implement these smart cities technologies and realize their benefits,” Mattmiller said in a statement.

== Next Steps ==

Following its introduction, the bill has been referred to the Committees on Energy and Commerce; Science, Space, and Technology; Education and the Workforce; and Foreign Affairs in the House of Representatives; and to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for consideration.