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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

Stronger infrastructure policy will revolutionize everything

Millions of Americans cram into aging airports every November to travel over Thanksgiving, a holiday notorious for a dizzying number of delays. As any frequent traveler knows, travel challenges are not limited to holidays. In fact, 24 of the top 30 airports are soon expected to experience Thanksgiving-like volume at least one day every week. Airport infrastructure is being pushed to its limit.

And the state of America’s airports is just one symptom of our aging infrastructure. Bridges, roadways and our digital infrastructure are also at a critical point.  It is time to think big when it comes to infrastructure investments, to look to the future and to innovate across federal, state and local governments.

What will our cities need to serve their residents and visitors?  What technological solutions exist today to create solutions for tomorrow’s problems?  Today's smart cities deploy connected technologies to streamline operations and enhance the urban experience. Tomorrow's cities will rely on our ability to future proof our infrastructure by marrying technology policy with investment. 

Washington, D.C., CTO Archana Vemulapalli has shown the innovation that is possible with the right digital infrastructure. Under her leadership, the district plans to install Wi-Fi in over half of the city’s underground Metro stations by the end of this year. City leadership also launched smarter.dc.gov, a website that lays out the ongoing and pending projects that will help make Washington a smarter city.

These and other initiatives are ultimately preserving city resources while making life easier for its citizens and visitors. For instance, ParkDC aims to use geospatial analytics to provide real-time parking availability data, making it easier to find that hidden parking space. DC Water plans to use sensors that will measure the quality of the city’s drinking water in real-time, preventing potential crises. And smart waste management already uses sensor technology that provides data analytics to identify the most efficient waste pick-up routes and strategies.

While these projects demonstrate how cities can become more responsive, sustainable and equitable, none of it will be achievable without the necessary digital infrastructure. These next-generation initiatives require next-generation wireless networks.

5G 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, Wi-Fi, traditional cell networks and other wireless connection points, cities can lay the groundwork for this transformative network technology. We’ve already received a sneak-peek of what can be achieved with a commitment to investment in digital infrastructure.

5G deployment won’t happen overnight, and it won’t happen at scale without the right policies in place. Broad and timely deployment of 5G requires a policy framework to make roll outs more efficient -- a reality that many cities and states are waking up to. Forward-looking government leaders are asking what they can do to help clear a path for 5G in their states and cities.

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

Government leaders, at all levels, would be wise to accelerate the development of policies that will promote investment in both physical and digital infrastructure across the country. Our cities’  connected future can’t wait. 

About the Author

Chelsea Collier is the founder of Digi.City, a platform designed to discuss the policy behind deploying and supporting smart city technology.

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