On Tuesday, President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address to reinforce the need for legislation to update the nation’s infrastructure. In the speech, he urged both parties to “unite for a great rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure” and said that he is “eager to work” with Congress on the issue. Significantly, he said that any such measure should “deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future.” He emphasized: “This is not an option. This is a necessity.”

President Trump’s push on infrastructure is particularly noteworthy because infrastructure remains popular in both parties and the new House Congressional leadership has echoed the push for an infrastructure package.

While the State of the Union provided few details about the kinds of “cutting-edge industries” that could be the focus of a bipartisan infrastructure package, three key technologies are likely candidates: 5G wireless, connected and automated vehicles (“CAV”), and smart city technologies. A fact sheet on infrastructure released by the White House after the speech reiterated the call to “invest in visionary products” and emphasized the importance of “[m]astering new technologies” including 5G wireless. Such investments may not only improve “crumbling” infrastructure, but also spur the development of these technologies—and Congress is already holding a series of hearings devoted to identifying infrastructure needs.

5G Wireless

5G wireless technology will enable wireless broadband services by providing faster speeds and lower latency, as discussed previously on this blog. The deployment of 5G will accordingly be critical to the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, including in industries such as transportation, healthcare, and agriculture.

For 5G deployment to succeed, new physical structures will need to be in place to enable small cells to be installed on utility poles and fixed structures, rather than using large existing cell towers. These small cells allow for a higher concentration of traffic to move across the network more efficiently. Investments in these new physical structures and corresponding technological infrastructure could benefit from a legislative package. Indeed, this week the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing on 5G, and witnesses repeatedly emphasized 5G’s role in new infrastructure investments.

Because 5G allows for faster speeds, lower latency, and greater capacity, 5G wireless would enable on-the-go applications, high-definition virtual reality, and reliable connected devices (such as medical devices and connected cars). Current 4G speeds are incapable of hosting the amount of traffic required for these technologies.

Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

Investments in infrastructure can also drive advancement in CAV technologies. CAVs, which encompass self-driving cars and other cars that talk to each other, rely on sensors and various software to improve transportation, safety, and accessibility.

Investments in 5G alone would facilitate the connectivity needed for many CAV technologies. As this blog has previously discussed, 5G would enable cars to collect and share greater amounts of data at a quicker pace, thereby improving driver experiences and equipping cars with more rapid reflexes, among other benefits. Other forms of infrastructure investment will also benefit the sector. For instance, resources devoted to vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure technologies would provide additional channels for cars to talk to one another and the road. Similarly, investments in new road markings, road conditions, signage, lane designations, and access management (e.g., pick up and drop off places) could enable more CAVs to safely and efficiently navigate roads. At the same time, the expansion of the CAV sector may accelerate developments in other areas of infrastructure. Cars with data-collection capabilities, for example, may be able to provide input on road conditions, traffic flows, and pedestrian patterns that could inform broader infrastructure developments. For these reasons, CAV technologies are a likely target for any infrastructure package.

Smart Cities

Smart cities are urban areas that use data collection and analysis to manage assets and resources efficiently—making them a natural target for any infrastructure-related investments. Smart cities use technology to manage traffic and transportation systems, monitor the energy grid and utility networks, support law enforcement efforts, and improve the effectiveness of schools, hospitals, libraries, and other city services.

If a federal infrastructure bill invests in smart city technology, cities of all sizes could benefit from the more efficient delivery of city services. For example, a natural addition to road and bridge investments may be investing in smart streetlight installation. These streetlights can collect information on traffic patterns to mitigate traffic congestion through real-time light pattern management, track available parking spaces, and reduce maintenance demands. Smart streetlights can also improve safety by telling residents about the most populated route for a late night walk or telling drivers about an upcoming icy patch on the road. In addition, infrastructure spending could support installing sensors in urban environments to measure air quality and noise congestion, to improve quality of life and public health outcomes. Sensors may also provide real-time, location-based data about the urban environment to researchers, policymakers, and developers, which would allow for improved decision-making and better research.

What Does Congress Do Now?

These technologies are only three among the many that could be targeted by bipartisan infrastructure legislation. Congress is already examining these issues.

In the Senate, the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation quickly set a February 13th hearing on infrastructure, which will “focus on the opportunities for infrastructure improvement including federal funding, financing programs, and permitting and regulatory streamlining,” according to the Committee.

In the House, just after the State of the Union speech concluded, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) released a statement that rebuilding and modernizing infrastructure should be a priority. His Committee had already scheduled a hearing for February 7 titled “The Cost of Doing Nothing: Why Investing in Our Nation’s Infrastructure Cannot Wait.” The background materials for that hearing emphasize that infrastructure will “need to be modernized . . . to incorporate technology and innovation.” Several of the witnesses also highlighted the connection between infrastructure investments and new technologies:

  • Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified that the benefits of CAV technologies will only be realized “if our transportation infrastructure is a good state of repair.” According to LaHood: “[f]or AVs to be successful, roads must be properly marked and free of potholes” and technology must enable vehicles to “communicate with each other and their surrounding infrastructure.
  • Tim Walz, the governor of Minnesota, emphasized in his testimony that “[i]nfrastructure should incorporate new capabilities related to increasing connectivity, autonomy, digital information and electrification” and said that “[s]tates are leading the way in embracing new practices and technologies.”
  • Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles, testified that “Congress should reward innovation, ensuring new technologies for reducing traffic, cutting emissions, improving goods delivery, facilitating the arrival of scooters, boring tunnels, and bringing electric and autonomous vehicles to our streets are all developed here in the United States.”

We will continue to track these infrastructure and other IoT/CAV developments and provide updates here.

This blog is part of Covington’s IoT and autonomous vehicles series. Other recent posts include:

Photo of Jayne Ponder Jayne Ponder

Jayne Ponder is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice Group. Jayne’s practice focuses on a broad range of privacy, data security, and technology issues. She provides ongoing privacy and data protection…

Jayne Ponder is an associate in the firm’s Washington, DC office and a member of the Data Privacy and Cybersecurity Practice Group. Jayne’s practice focuses on a broad range of privacy, data security, and technology issues. She provides ongoing privacy and data protection counsel to companies, including on topics related to privacy policies and data practices, the California Consumer Privacy Act, and cyber and data security incident response and preparedness.