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Congress Gets Smart on IoT

Congress Gets Smart on IoT

With Congress dominated by partisan bickering and legislative logjam in recent years, a small but growing bipartisan, bicameral group of forward-thinking U.S. legislators hailing from vastly different states have been working together in a collaborative and deliberate fashion to answer a key question that may determine the future of American ingenuity and competitiveness: how can policymakers on Capitol Hill help ensure that the public sector appropriately plan for, encourage, and support the expected proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT)?

These lawmakers, led by Senators Deb Fischer (R-NE), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) in the Senate and Representatives Suzan DelBene (D-WA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) in the House, have formed the Congressional Internet of Things Caucus as a forum for the discussion and education about the policy implications that could result from enabling ubiquitous connectivity for our everyday appliances and gadgets, modes of delivery and transport, as well as the provisioning of goods and services.

One of the first issues being tackled by the Senate co-founders of the Caucus is the lack of any single mechanism within the federal system to oversee and address the opportunities and challenges presented by the rise of IoT. In March of this year they introduced S. 2607, the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things Act (the DIGIT Act), which requires the Department of Commerce to convene a working group made up of federal agencies overseeing various aspects of the emerging IoT sector to provide a set of policy recommendations to Congress on how to foster its growth while protecting consumers.

The other issue that legislators have shown great interest in is how to maintain a steady supply of airwaves that could meet the mounting spectrum demands brought on by the IoT economy. Spectrum is the “oxygen” of wireless connectivity, but it is also a limited resource. While the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) and the FCC have the primary responsibilities for allocating governmental and non-governmental uses of the airwaves respectively, Congress ultimately holds the pen on the form and scope of such authorities.

It is thus particularly encouraging to see that the DIGIT Act includes a provision that directs the FCC to submit recommendations concerning the IoT’s current and future spectrum needs, with equal emphasis on the use of licensed and unlicensed spectrum. It represents a continuation of Congress’ bipartisan examination in recent years into ways the federal government can help support consumer’s exponential adoption of mobile broadband technology. For example, last year’s Spectrum Pipeline Act, which was enacted as part of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015, directed the executive branch to identify by 2024 an additional 130 megahertz of spectrum that could be repurposed to support mobile broadband services, including the connectivity for IoT devices. Both the House and Senate Commerce Committees have also considered legislation this year requiring NTIA and the FCC to examine the use of millimeter wave technology for mobile or fixed terrestrial wireless operations using high-band spectrum – the types of use particularly suited for the deployment of IoT services.  

With a new Congress and a new Administration just a few months away, many more elected officials and their staff will have to be brought up to speed on one of the biggest drivers of our nation’s digital economy. But thanks to the pioneering work of the leaders of the Congressional Internet of Things Caucuses, much of the foundation has already been laid for our policymakers to become partners of, rather than impediments to, a growing IoT sector. 

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