Smart city industry to Congress: Hands off

Representatives from three tech companies urged the federal government against regulation during a briefing on the Hill.

A panel of representatives from three leading tech firms did not mince words when the discussion moderator asked what Congress could do to aid smart city technology.

The answer was a unanimous “nothing.”

“We are at a nascent state of opportunity to transform how governments work, how economies run — it’s important to not stifle this with over-regulation,” said Seth Siegel, Cisco’s director of consulting for the Americas, during a roundtable on the Hill Wednesday.

Brian Van Harlingen, chief technology officer of Belkin, followed up with a similar sentiment, saying that the federal government “should not over-regulate; it should only reprimand bad actors, not responsible companies … The concern we have is pace of legislation keeping up with the pace of innovation.”


Throughout the briefing, hosted by the Congressional Caucus on the Internet of Things, panelists spoke to the complex, fluctuating nature of smart city technology and broader Internet of Things thinking.

While acknowledging legislators’ desire to stimulate the acceleration of IoT, the group cited past instances where the government’s intervention backfired. They referenced a 2013 executive order to set industry standards on protecting sensitive information. Though the order was well intentioned, new malware threats ultimately made it obsolete by the time the National Institute of Standards and Technology began encouraging industries to enforce it, argued Steve Crout, Qualcomm’s vice president of government affairs.

The panel said similar regulatory efforts applied to smart city technology would only stymie an industry that has the potential to add $3 trillion in the U.S. economy, Siegel said.

“Very small things have huge impacts,” he warned.

This philosophy holds true not just for regulation, but for Internet of Things technology itself, the panel said. Smart thermostats, LED light bulbs, trashcans that monitor fill levels, and interactive public information kiosks are among the innovations that the companies boast — innovations they say are shaping the future.


“We’re connecting people to people, people to things, and things to things,” Crout said. “We have the advantage to play across all verticals.”

The all-encompassing nature of Internet of Things technology, while exciting to many, has also raised concerns about cybersecurity, particularly in the wake of the April OPM hack that compromised the data of 22 million current and former federal workers.

On this front, the representatives appeared to have fewer answers.

“Cybersecurity is going to be a challenge just as physical security always has. Digital security is the modern-day analogue to physical security,” Harlingen said. “Our goal is to be as safe as a bank … but banks get hacked too.”

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