Over the past five years, industry and university labs have developed emerging technologies to support the Internet of Things (IoT), networks that connect everyday objects like cars, pacemakers, and thermostats to the Internet to drive down cost savings and improve safety and quality of life. These technologies have the potential to transform communities – improving transportation, reducing power consumption, boosting health outcomes – but to date they’ve mainly impacted select neighborhoods and traffic corridors.

To scale and sustain their impact, and to address the inherent privacy and security concerns, Congress and the federal government should establish a national smart community strategy.

From a policy perspective, there are several issues that a national smart community strategy could address, including accelerating innovation, funding new research, and integrating smart community efforts with existing economic development programs. As a first step, this will require identifying obstacles to progress and specific gaps in capacity where the federal government can provide support.

Potential policy options under a new national strategy could include:

  • Smart Community Competition: Authorize and provide funding for a Smart Community Prize Competition, similar to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) 2015 Smart City Challenge.
  • Research and Development: Increase federal funding for research and development (R&D) and pilot project grants at agencies that provide funding to support smart city technologies, including National Science Foundation (NSF), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Department of Defense (DOD).
  • Community Development Programs: Expand funding for community development programs to support broadband networks and training in low-income communities, building on the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) ConnectHome initiative.
  • Planning Grants: Authorize and provide funding for planning grants of up to $100,000 to help small and rural communities to explore deployment of smart technologies.
  • Economic Development Programs: Increase funding for programs at the Economic Development Agency (EDA), including Economic Adjustment Assistance and the Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program’s I6 Challenge, and expand these programs’ missions to support smart city startups and workforce training programs.

These recommendations are only a starting point, but they could be critical for maintaining global competitiveness around smart community technologies like autonomous vehicles and IoT sensors. It’s also important that the U.S. consider its options quickly in order to ensure that small cities, military bases, and rural communities don’t get left behind.

For more on these recommendations and efforts to expand smarter community development, read our policy paper, Smart City Technologies: Driving Economic Growth and Community Resilience.