Lawmakers from Washington state push for Smart Cities Bill in Congress

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Rep. Suzan DelBene discusses smart cities and privacy at the GeekWire Summit. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

A bill introduced in Congress this week would free up hundreds of millions of dollars to help cities throughout the country adopt new technologies.

The Smart Cities Bill was introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Suzan DelBene, two lawmakers from Washington state, where several smart city projects have taken off. Rep. Ben Ray Luján, of New Mexico, co-sponsored the legislation.

Washington cities get smarter: The state’s biggest city, Seattle is a growing tech hub home to Amazon and a slew of other tech companies. Many of them have partnered with the city on a new Innovation Advisory Council to develop smart technologies for municipal processes. Seattle has also adopted adaptive traffic signals, a careful open data policy, and other smart city programs. But a city doesn’t have to be a technopolis to be smart. The small seafaring city of Anacortes is developing a fiber network for municipal broadband operated as a city utility. With all of this smart city activity, it’s no surprise that the members of Congress representing Washington are pushing for the Smart Cities bill.

The nitty gritty: The bill would make $220 million a year available for smart city projects over five years. It would also coordinate smart city programs throughout the country, fostering collaboration. The bill was first introduced in 2017. A new version was introduced this week.

Yes, but: Although smart city projects can improve efficiency, reduce pollution, and provide other benefits they also come with some serious risks. Hooking up city systems to the internet makes them vulnerable to hacking and collecting troves of data from citizens can raise privacy and human rights concerns.

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