Susan Crawford is a professor at Harvard Law School.Big data is driving business decisions, mobile devices keep us constantly connected, and social media is transforming the nature of politics. But when it comes to cities, no technology has captured the imagination of urban planners, city officials, and startups worldwide more than the Internet of Things (IoT). With low-power, low-cost devices, we can connect almost any object to the internet. We can use these devices to create a vast web of sensors—from wearables to Wi-Fi kiosks to futuristic trash cans—to collect and share data.With IoT, cities can integrate, analyze, and visualize diverse information. Cities can discover new insights; imagine examining patterns of transit demand in relation to air quality or citywide energy use, or understanding the walkability of a city in relation to pedestrian congestion and storefront width. IoT can also reduce costs by enabling simple efficiencies: Trash can be collected only when receptacles are full and public parks can be watered only when the ground is dry. But these new capabilities bring new challenges for city officials. Who will pay for the infrastructure? Who will own the data? And how can the public ensure that citizens’ privacy and security are protected?
The first News Challenge of 2013 will focus on Open Gov and is now open for its Inspiration Phase. To get folks thinking, we asked a handful of people to share their hopes for open government. Below Susan Crawford, telecommunications policy expert and professor at Cardozo Law School, shares her ideas. As city leaders focus on making their administrations more innovative, efficient, transparent, open to outside expertise, and better at service delivery, they're going to need cheaper and continually-higher-capacity, high-speed Internet access. And their communities are going to need the same thing. At the moment, though, the operations of many U.S. city administrations rely on leased communications services that are extraordinarily expensive and unlikely to be upgraded. Citizens - the same people we're hoping will be engaging with easy-to-understand online public services, self-help tools, and public participation modalities of all kinds - are similarly stuck. They tend to pay higher prices for slower speeds compared to people in many countries, and a lack of wired high-speed Internet access at home is closely tied to socio-economic status, race, and education. For example, just two-thirds of Americans as a whole have access at home (a number that isn't budging), and only one-third of urban African-Americans do. And without a wire very close by, it's very difficult to get citizens the enhanced educational, health, job-searching and job-creation opportunities they need. Although it may take quite a while for federal policy to rise to this challenge, U.S. mayors can do a lot to help themselves and their communities right now. Ask yourself these questions: Do you believe that your community's high-speed Internet access needs in 10 years will be met by the current networks? If not, what is going to cause an upgrade to happen?