What the Infrastructure Bill Means for TechJustin Hendrix / Nov 6, 2021
The word "technology" appears 324 times in the text of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that passed the United States Congress with bipartisan support on Friday. The word "digital" appears 143 times. Indeed, on top of building new roads, bridges and rail, and investing in climate change mitigation, clean water and air, the investment of more than $1 trillion will go towards broadband, transportation, clean tech, cybersecurity, smart manufacturing, and much more.
More of the country will have access to high speed internet as a result of the investment, including rural and underserved, low-income areas, and several key areas of infrastructure will be modernized with digital upgrades and related investments in cybersecurity.
President Joe Biden hailed the passage of the Act in a White House address. He noted the impact on internet connectivity, saying "no parent should have to sit in a parking lot of a fast food restaurant so their child can do their homework because they have no Internet connection except to go off of what’s going on at — with that Internet connect from the fast food restaurant."
One minor element in the Act that has attracted attention from some in the tech community concerns provisions around reporting and taxation for cryptocurrency. The language included in the final bill will still have to be interpreted by the Treasury department before it is enacted, and will likely be the subject of litigation.
Here are some highlights on broadband and transportation, two key areas that intersect with tech:
The Act provides $65 billion to fund grants to expand and deploy broadband across the country. It includes the Digital Equity Act of 2021, which will create multiple new lines of funding to build new internet infrastructure and advance its deployment and use by the population.
The Department of Commerce will establish the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, under which states can seek grants to advance digital equity and inclusion. Each state must write its own plan to address the availability of and access to broadband; to expand digital literacy including around privacy and cybersecurity; and to provide workforce and adult education. States are directed to identify key stakeholders, such as community and anchor institutions, local governments and other entities that may be necessary to deliver such programs and to receive subgrants. Commerce will also run the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program to increase internet access and the adoption of broadband, to make digital network technology available to communities at low or no cost, and to establish and upgrade public access computing centers for covered populations.
In order to "encourage the expansion and extension of middle mile infrastructure to reduce the cost of connecting unserved and underserved areas to the backbone of the internet" and to create more resilient networks in the United States, the Commerce Department's Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information will provide grants that will support the construction of new network infrastructure within five years of the availability of funds. The final download speed Congress chose to stipulate is 100 mbps, and the upload speed 20 mbps.
A section on broadband affordability extends and modifies the emergency broadband benefits previously made available by Congress in pandemic relief funds. The "Emergency Broadband" program will now be known as the "Affordable Connectivity" program. It also extends protections to consumers participating in the program, and includes language that is intended to prevent broadband providers from engaging in "digital discrimination" (such as providing lower quality or slower services) against individuals participating in the program.
A focus on the telecommunications industry workforce creates an interagency working group to determine the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, "including the workforce needed to build and maintain the 5G wireless infrastructure necessary to support 5G wireless technology," and to create a plan to make sure education and workforce training programs are producing the necessary skills and volume of workers necessary.
The Act also calls for a report on the future of the Universal Service Fund, which is a mechanism that requires telecom companies to subsidize services to low-income and high-cost areas.
The Act will fund a dramatic expansion of charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, and provide for the study of how roads need to be updated to accommodate self-driving vehicles. Just as roadways are anticipated to be more high-tech, the Act acknowledges that opens a vulnerability to cyber attacks. The Federal Highway Administration is directed to invest in new cybersecurity protections and staff, including a "cyber coordinator" that will work to shore up vulnerabilities with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
A pilot program to look at alternative methods to fund the Highway Trust Fund is in included which will look at the possibility of taxing vehicle use of roads through mechanisms such as smart phone applications, telemetric data from vehicles, or data obtained from cars at checkpoints such as fueling stations.
At Forbes, Carlton Reid explores one element in a section on research in connected vehicle technology that is included in the bill, which will result in a report to Congress on systems-- such as the use of low-power transponders, RFID or other sensors-- to make pedestrians, connected and self-driving vehicles and other elements on roads, such as street furniture, visible to one another.
Additionally, the Act will establish new federal standards for "geomatic techniques, including remote sensing and land surveying, cartography, geographic information systems, global navigation satellite systems, photogrammetry, or other remote means."
Another constituency will be quite pleased to see the Act pass- butterflies. The Act funds the "seeding of native, locally-appropriate grasses and wildflowers, including milkweed" along the nation's highways. Milkweed is the food preferred in particular by monarch butterflies, which migrate across the nation each year.