On November 15, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act became law under U.S. President Biden’s signature, allocating $1.2 trillion in federal spending to strengthen the country’s digital and physical infrastructure. The Act is being heralded as a “once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure and competitiveness.”
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has massive implications for smart cities initiatives. In the past, U.S. efforts have long been stymied due to two key missing elements from the federal level – a lack of clear funding sources and the lack of strategic guidance. But the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs heralds a new day and a new opportunity.
The Law provides direct smart city infrastructure support via High-Speed Internet Access, allocating $65 billion to help the more than 30 million disconnected Americans get online. In addition to infrastructure build-out, “the legislation will also help lower prices for internet service and help close the digital divide, so that more Americans can afford internet access.”
Of that $65 billion, $2.75 billion is slated to support digital equity and inclusion through Act’s State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program. There is great wisdom in pairing physical infrastructure for high-speed internet with capacity planning for skills building, environmental support and devices. Digital Equity advocates have been pleading for years that a holistic approach that combines access with devices and digital skills training/support is imperative to closing the Digital Divide and more specifically “The Homework Gap.”
There are three components to the digital equity portion of the act:
- State Digital Equity Planning Grants ($60 million available FY2022)
- State Capacity Grants ($1.44 billion -$240 million in FY2022; $300 million per year FY2023-26)
- Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program ($1.25 billion – $250 million per year FY2022-2026)
Beyond connecting citizens and residents, bolstering broadband infrastructure will also support smart city services and solutions. Bill Pugh, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Smart Connections states, “At the foundation of all of this, fiber networks are hugely important to delivering on the promises of Smart Cities, Smart Grid, Smart Building augmented with other wired and wireless technologies to improve cities and municipalities operational efficiency and improve the livability of citizens across the board.”
In addition to broadband support, there are also substantial opportunities for smart city strategy, technology and data/analytics to support the other priority areas described including:
- Better Roads\ and Bridges
- Investments in Public Transit
- Upgrade Airports and Ports
- Investment in Passenger Rail
- Network of Electric Vehicle Chargers
- Upgrade Power Infrastructure
- Resilient Infrastructure
- Investment in Environmental Remediation
- No More Lead Pipes
The usage of IoT sensors, data and analytics can provide critical intelligence for a cross-sector of planners, designers, innovators and implementers to inform better decision making related to these infrastructure investments. For example, related to “Better Roads and Bridges”, analytics platforms such as GoodRoads.io can map pavement integrity and help transportation departments determine which roads need fixing first. Smart city startup State of Place helps decision makers harness the power of data to optimize resource deployment in order to ”create livable, equitable & sustainable places.” Even in more traditional applications, such as lead pipe replacement, data and analytics on the built environment and municipal systems has the opportunity to have a positive and substantial impact on which pipes to prioritize as well as mapping the potential impact on residents..
After nearly a decade of deliberation on the future of smart cities in the U.S., we now have a pathway forward that marries unprecedented need on the local level with funding and guidance from the federal government. The champions in this space from industry, government, academia, entrepreneurship and community organizations now have extra incentive to continue the good and hard work of collaboration, cooperation, priority setting and strategic vision implementation. Success in the future will require continuing the work of exchanging best practices and lessons learned through respectful dialogue and learning, all of which is available through Smart Cities Connect.
Please continue to share your questions, your insights, your time and your talents with us. We have a new energy and a chance to make the moonshot. And, of course, make sure you’re ready to join us in April in Columbus for Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo!