$2B in grants for smart cities suggested among 24 tech ideas for Biden and new Congress

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) has evaluated a suite of in-building sensors developed through the Smart City Internet of Things Innovation Labs effort during a live active shooter exercise at George Maso
ITIF, a non-partisan research group, said Congress should authorize $2 billion in smart city competitive grants to help pilot projects in up to 60 cities that build on 5G and IoT. (Pixabay)


Among a laundry list of suggested tech policies, a nonpartisan Washington research institute urged Congress on Monday to grant $2 billion in smart city funds to help improve operations in 60 of the nation’s cities of various sizes.

Information Technology & Innovation Foundation laid out the smart city grant concept as part of 24 suggestions for Congress and President-elect Biden to advance good tech policy in 2021.

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“With the emergence of 5G and Internet of things, there are many emerging opportunities for cities to use these and related technologies to improve their economies, city operations and quality of life,” the ITIF report says. “Many other nations have launched ambitious pilot programs to help their cities adopt these technologies and become smart-city leaders.”

ITIF called for the $2 billion to be made available on a competitive basis for up to 10 large cities, 20 medium-sized cities and 30 small-sized cities.

ITIF’s overall concept is to support technology initiatives that both Republicans and Democrats can rally behind amid an atmosphere of gridlock on social issues such as expanding health care or reforming immigration.

“Historically, things have gotten done in Washington when there has been at least a rough consensus among both parties and many interests, and an area of policy that could follow this latter pattern is technology and innovation policy, especially to help grow the economy,” ITIF said.

The report lays out 15 things Congress could do and 9 things that the Biden administration could do to support U.S. innovation and competitiveness that would be “political practical” and would align with the interests of industry “more or less.”

In addition to its smart city grant idea, ITIF urged Congress to tackle the thorny issue of net neutrality by clarifying that broad Internet access is not a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act and that gives the FCC reasonable jurisdiction to enforce open Internet rules.

Also, ITIF called on Congress to pass comprehensive federal data privacy legislation to preempt state laws and establish basic consumer data rights.  ITIF also argued that Congress should not eliminate Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act despite calls to do so, saying lawmakers should make targeted reforms to ensure that online providers take responsibility for harmful content and conduct while maintaining free speech and innovation.

Another of the 24 ideas call for Congress to provide special incentives for immigrants holding STEM graduate degrees with preference to those with degrees from U.S. universities to receive a green card.  “Both parties generally support STEM immigration,” ITIF noted. “At minimum, Congress should eliminate per-country caps on employment-based green cards.

ITIF also urged Congress to fully fund semiconductor authorizations included in the recently passed 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, which survived a veto by President Trump.  The NDAA included a consolidated version of the CHIPS for America Act and the American Foundries Act that called for expanded federal investment in semiconductor research and tech development, introduced incentives to locate chip manufacturing in the U.S. and expanded tax credits for investments in the chip sector. 

The CHIPS Act had garnered wide support from U.S.-based semiconductor companies with the Semiconductor Industry Association urging full funding of the semiconductor provisions.  SIA has noted a decline in chip production in the U.S. in recent decades, arguing that robust set of incentives could create 70,000 jobs at 19 new semiconductor fabs over the next decade.

Specifically, ITIF urged a doubling of the R&D tax credit, noting that the U.S. ranks 24th in R&D credits out of 34 competing nations globally.

Other ITIF suggestions call for expanding rural broadband deployment, modernizing government IT and expanding clean energy research.

In terms of nine suggestions for the Biden administration, ITIF focused heavily on tech trade relationships with other nations, including China and the European Union.

On China, ITIF noted that even if everyone does not agree with President Trump’s actions “there is now strong bipartisan support for pressing China on its mercantilist practices” especially related to advanced tech.  ITIF called on Biden to work with allies to press China on reforms.

Also, ITIF called on Biden to “generally limit the use of export controls to China,” a reference to Trump’s use of an entity list to require chip companies selling to companies such as Huawei to receive a special permit.

ITIF also called on Biden to develop a national AI strategy, one that includes identifying areas where agencies can drive development and adoption of AI and where Congress needs to act.

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