A Wake Up Call for Government Leaders: If we don’t invest in innovation now, the U.S. can say goodbye to being #1

“The U.S. must align its national priorities with innovation policy. The UAE and China certainly are.” In a couple of sentences, tech founder Amir Husain, who just raised $32.5 million for his AI startup, Spark Cognition, gave the call to action for city leaders and policymakers nationwide.

Investing in America’s digital future is no longer optional. It is an economic imperative. 5G, AI and IoT are more than just letters and numbers – they will fundamentally change our modern experience. Our world will be connected, automated and intuitive.

I witnessed industry leaders from IBM, Visa, Cisco, Honda convene last week in the nation’s capital for the Bloomberg Next conference. The discussion proved that these companies understand and are anticipating what’s next. There are also select policy makers who “get it.” Chairman John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) on the Commerce Committee are drafting legislation that will support the proliferation of wireless networks that will be crucial to supporting future technology.

But there are many others who need to catch up. Beyond the (noteworthy) buzz about driver-less vehicles and a robotic workforce, there is little talk about investing in the infrastructure, systems and policies that fuel these innovations.

Global powerhouse leaders in this space, including the UAE and China, understand the current reality and are making major strides to set their cities up for success. They are adding thousands of sensors, hiring AI, IoT and cyber security experts and building out high-speed mobile broadband infrastructure in preparation for 5G.  If the US does not follow suit fast and in a big way, we risk abdicating the premier position our country has known for so long.

Thought leaders convened this week in the nation’s capital to discuss the future of American cities at the Bloomberg Next conference. At the center of the discussion will be the integration of digital infrastructure into cities across the country.

The action items, as I see them, coming from this timely discussion are the following:

1-Leadership Alignment

Meaningful collaboration and action between (1) the public and private sector, (2) local, state and federal entitles and (3) across party lines is paramount to moving forward in the evolution of our metropolitan areas into smart cities. There is no time to waste with regulations that were put in place from a bygone era, bureaucratic red tape or self-absorbed political chicanery.

Our digital infrastructure is at a critical point.  It is time to think big when it comes to infrastructure investments, to look to the future, and to innovate, free from arbitrary constraints. What will our cities need to serve their residents, visitors, entrepreneurs and employer firms?  What technological solutions exist today to create solutions for tomorrow’s problems?  Modern cities will rely on our ability to future proof our infrastructure by marrying technology policy with investment.

2- Innovation Prioritization

5G – the next-generation of wireless networks – will be the key to empowering smart cities and our growing data consumption, which will continue to skyrocket. Through investing in a network of small cells, pole attachments, WiFi, traditional cell networks and other wireless connection points, we can lay the groundwork for this transformative network technology.

5G deployment won’t happen overnight and won’t happen at scale without the right policies in place. Broad and timely rollout of 5G requires a policy framework to make deployments more efficient – a reality that many cities and states are beginning to realize. Forward looking government leaders are asking what they can do to help clear a path for 5G in their states and cities to meet their unique needs.

3- Policy Focus

State and municipal governments need better resources and guidelines to navigate the next frontier of infrastructure policy. An important step is to simplify unnecessarily complex zoning and permitting processes to minimize bureaucratic hurdles. On the national level, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) can support the effort by accelerating its work on pending infrastructure orders to encourage a speedy of the networks that will enable 5G and smart city applications.

Government leaders, at all levels, would be wise to act aggressively to develop the right policies that will promote investment in both physical and digital infrastructure across all corners of the country.

Moving Forward

This article is meant to be alarmist. The intention is not to manipulate but rather to educate, raise awareness and encourage immediate action. We are at a critical this time in our nation’s history and there is still ample opportunity to get it right. If we sit passively by and maintain inertia, regulatory quagmires and old ways of thinking, we will invite others to take their place as a leader of the innovation era. We still have the chance to lead the world but our cities’ collective and connected future can’t wait.