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U.S. Senate Bill Would Lend Federal Support to the Internet of Things

A bill from a bipartisan group of senators would charge the Federal Communications Commission with the task of encouraging growth in the Internet of Things field.

The ever-inflating Internet of Things (IoT) could get a boost in the form of federal assistance under a bill just filed in the U.S. Senate.

The text of the bill, short-titled the “Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things Act” — DIGIT, for short — estimates that 50 billion devices will be connected to each other by 2020 and acknowledges the huge potential that level of interconnectivity could have on society. Pilot projects are already underway to start setting up connections that could be used to improve government operations and better deliver service to citizens — for instance, San Francisco has a dedicated IoT network with proposed uses including improving the city’s bicycle-friendliness, and Chicago is setting up a sensor array that might help prevent flood damage.

The act also acknowledged the business case for building up the IoT.

“The Internet of Things has the potential to generate trillions of dollars in economic opportunity; businesses across the country can simplify logistics, cut costs and pass savings on to consumers by utilizing the Internet of Things and related innovations derived from it,” the bill reads.

The bill's sponsors are senators Deb Fischer, R-Neb.; Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii.

The DIGIT Act would build on a previous resolution the Senate passed in 2015 that expresses general support for the IoT, and would specifically call on the Federal Communications Commission to look into spectrum needs to support IoT connectivity and break down any regulatory barriers that might hinder growth in the field.

The bill also calls on the FCC to convene a working group of government and industry stakeholders to get together and tell Congress how it should plan for, and encourage, the IoT’s growth.

In a way, the FCC has already given a big boost to the field by setting aside 75 MHz specifically for the use of dedicated short-range communications in connected vehicles. That’s the platform on which the federal government is hoping to build connections between cars and infrastructure, which could allow for applications that could reduce congestion and avoid collisions. And with increasing connections to Wi-Fi and other networks — Business Insider estimates that 75 percent of cars shipped in 2020 will be connected — vehicles might one day be a common nexus points in the IoT where people connect several of their devices.

In a March 1 statement, Daniel Castro, director of the Center for Data Innovation, praised the move as a necessary step to help the IoT market identify solutions to problems that it might not be able to do on its own. However, he said, the U.S. government also must make sure that it looks for ways to take advantage of the emerging technology and not just encourage its use in the private sector.

“As the Internet of Things generates huge amounts of data for the public and private sectors to act upon, the United States will need to ensure that it produces a workforce capable of taking advantage of this data,” he wrote.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.