IoT Update: Federal Lawmakers Focus on Smart Cities

Since the beginning of the year, lawmakers in this Congress have introduced a number of proposals to study, cultivate, and guide the growth of smart cities. This blog post summarizes seven smart cities bills introduced in this Congress. Some bills focus broadly on Federal efforts to prioritize smart cities, whereas others focus on specific topics, like transportation and smart utilities.

Interestingly, most smart cities legislation introduced this year includes a grant program, which could reflect Congressional interest in demonstrating best practices capable of being replicated, as well as interest in providing financial support to accelerate smart cities growth. The size of these grant programs typically hovers around $20-50M, though some bills leave the funding amount to the grant administrator.

Notably, the bills introduced this year point to different departments for leadership—the Departments of Commerce, Transportation, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and the Directors of the National Science Foundation, and Homeland Security. The delegation of primary responsibility to various departments and agencies may be a natural outgrowth of the interdisciplinary issues raised by smart cities technology. These varying approaches may also be a result of Federal agencies wanting to become involved in what some, like Representative Latta (R-OH-5), estimate will have an economic impact of trillions of dollars.

Bills to Establish Smart Cities Studies and Working Groups

  • The Smart Cities and Communities Act of 2019 (H.R.2636) (S. 1398): Introduced in the House of Representatives by Representatives DelBene (D-WA-1) and Lujan (D-NM-3), and in the Senate by Senator Cantwell (D-WA), this bill would require that the Secretary of Commerce establish a council of Federal agencies to demonstrate the value of smart cities in repeatable ways that can be scaled. A similar version of this bill was introduced in 2017 in the House by Representative DelBene (D-WA-1) (H.R. 3895), and in the Senate by Senator Cantwell (D-WA) (S.1904), both of which stalled in committee. According to a press release, the bill will provide assistance and resources to local governments interested in implementing smart cities technologies, and develop a skilled and technology savvy domestic workforce to support smart cities.
  • SMART IoT Act (H.R. 2644): Representative Latta (R-OH-5) re-introduced the SMART IoT Act, which passed the House last year. The new bill would direct the Secretary of Commerce to conduct a study and submit to Congress a report on the state of internet-connected devices industry in the United States. This bill appears to be most interested in cataloging the Federal agencies with jurisdiction over the IoT industry and providing Congress with a recommendation on the appropriate entity to regulate IoT technologies.

Transportation Bills

A number of proposals would study how smart technologies could alleviate specific transportation issues, such as congestion, air pollution, transportation costs, and mobility. However, there appears to be disagreement as to whether the Secretary of Transportation or another Federal agency should administer the program. Specifically, these proposals include:

  • Moving and Fostering Innovation to Revolutionize Smarter Transportation (“Moving FIRST”) Act (H.R. 3388)(S.1939): Introduced by Senator Cortez Masto (D-NV) in the Senate and Representative DeSaulnier (D-CA-11) in the House, this bill would direct the Secretary of Transportation to establish a grant program ($30-50M for large and mid-sized cities and $20M for rural communities and regional partnerships) for innovative, integrated transportation projects, including those that integrate sensor-based infrastructure, communications technology, and coordinated automation. This bill asks the Secretary of Transportation to consider in awarding grants the extent to which proposed projects will used advanced data and intelligent transportation systems, which may lead to the continued development of smart cities technologies in the United States. According to a press release, a number of industry partners and civil society groups support this proposal.
  • Less Traffic with Smart Stop Lights Act of 2019 (H.R. 3261): The Less Traffic with Smart Stop Lights Act of 2019, introduced by Representative Cardenas (D-CA-29), would improve the functioning of traffic signals, and require that the Secretary of Transportation establish a grant program for adaptive signal control technology and real-time data measurement technology by communities. The size of grant awards would be at the Secretary of Transportation’s discretion.
  • Smart Technologies Advancing Reliable Transportation Act (H.R. 3156): This bill was introduced by Representative Clarke (D-NY-9) and would promote the use of smart technologies through the creation of a smart city resource guide that includes examples of public-private partnerships; best practices for technology demonstration, cyber security, and physical security; and topics to be determined by the Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, and Director of the National Science Foundation. The bill would also award grant funding of $20-40M to local governments, states, tribal governments, and multi-jurisdictional groups to implement smart city transportation programs. Unlike the Moving FIRST Act and Smart Technologies Advancing Reliable Transportation Act, this bill empowers the Secretaries of Energy and Housing and Urban Development, and the Director of the National Science Foundation, rather than the Secretary of Transportation, to administer the transportation-focused bill.

Utilities and Smart Buildings

Two bills focus on smart technologies for utilities and buildings. Like their transportation counterparts, these bills also establish grant programs to study and document best practices. These proposals include:

  • Distributed Energy Demonstration Act of 2019 (S.1742): Introduced by Senator Wyden (D-OR), this bill would require that the Department of Energy establish a grant program to demonstrate the value of advanced electric utilities, including smart water heaters, vehicle-to-grid integration, and granular retail electricity pricing. In carrying out this study, the Secretary of Energy and the Secretary of Homeland Security would be required to identify best practices for handling sensitive data.
  • Smart Building Acceleration Act (H.R. 2044): Introduced by Representative Welch (D-VT), this bill requires the Secretary of Energy to establish the Federal Smart Building Program that will implement smart building technology in federal buildings and document the costs and benefits of smart buildings for the federal government. According to the bill, a “smart building” includes an energy system that is flexible and automated; incorporates extensive operational monitoring and communication connectivity that allows for remote monitoring and analysis of all building functions; uses a systems-based approach in integrating building operations; communicates with utilities and other third-party commercial entities; protects the health and safety of occupants and workers; and is cybersecure. A similar bill was introduced by Senator Cantwell (D-WA) in 2015 (S. 1046).