In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. Intense winds and rains destroyed homes, businesses, and roads, and knocked out power for the island’s 3.3 million residents. Although power was restored to major urban areas within a few weeks, some poor and rural communities were left waiting for electricity for six months (National Geographic).
The island’s electrical grid, already in bad condition before the hurricane hit, remained weak even after power was restored. The storm damaged more than two-thirds of Puerto Rico’s coverage equipment, and one month later there was still no cell service (Public Radio International).
The weak grid illustrated the importance of alternative technologies. In October of 2017, Alphabet’s Project Loon took its balloon Internet experiment to Puerto Rico. Loon’s network of balloons, designed to essentially operate as floating cell towers, works with mobile network operators to provide LTE coverage to places lacking this service. By partnering with AT&T and T-Mobile, Loon was able to support text messaging and Internet access to 100,000 residents within one month. By February of 2018, that number had doubled to 200,000 (ArsTechnica).
Since testing began in 2011, Loon has provided LTE coverage across the globe. Its first success gave a rural school in Brazil Internet access for the first time in 2014. In 2017, Loon worked with Telefonica and the government of Peru to restore basic connectivity to the thousands of citizens affected by flooding in the country. In July of 2018, Loon announced a partnership with Telkom Kenya, and regions of central Kenya can expect balloon-powered Internet in 2019 (Project Loon). For more on Project Loon and how it functions, watch this video.
Why it Matters
The digital landscape considers the spaces and networks created by technological developments and digital infrastructure, as well as the role of stakeholders in these areas. Digital infrastructure refers to the infrastructure that is needed to maintain and operate a national and international computer network, process e-commerce transactions, and create, distribute, and access digital media content online. This digital infrastructure allowed the Internet’s public implementation over twenty years ago. The Internet has since driven innovation that has contributed to economic and social prosperity around the world (World Economic Forum).
We depend on digital infrastructure when we search for directions, look up the answer to a question, or talk with loved ones overseas. While easily taken for granted in our day-to-day life, we might not even realize how important it is to issues of national security, and the education and health of folks from rural America to Tanzania.
What is the best way to build digital infrastructure? What about the world’s population that still lacks Internet access? Will new technologies impact how businesses and governments function? What are the technological implications for education, healthcare, or privacy rights?
Putting it in Context
By the early 1900s, visionaries such as Nikola Tesla had imagined a worldwide wireless system. The idea became a reality in the 1960s when MIT’s JCR Licklider joined the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Licklider started working with packet switching, a new method of transmitting electronic data by breaking files into small chunks, or “packets” (History.com). With packet switching, researchers connected an MIT computer in Massachusetts to one in Santa Monica in 1965. This was the first step in creating the first Internet prototype, ARPANET, a network that allowed computers to communicate on a single platform (Forbes).
In 1973, Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf from the Defense Department developed the first standards for transmitting data, called the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP), and enabled the creation of a vast “network of networks”(Forbes). This led to Telenet, the first commercial version of ARPANET and the first Internet Service Provider (ISP) (Live Science).
In 1983, Paul Mockapetris from UC-Irvine created the Domain Name System (DNS) for categorizing websites. We know this system by website endings, such as -.edu, -.gov, -.org, and -.com (Forbes). Then in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) developed HyperText Markup Language (HTML). After this, the World Wide Web (WWW) was born and today is still the most common way to access data online through websites and hyperlinks. The WWW officially entered the public domain in 1993. It has since seen the creation of companies that profit from organizing information on the web, such as Google’s search engine (1998), Facebook’s social network (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2006) (Live Science).
The Role of Broadband
Today, access to the Internet mainly relies on broadband, which is constant high-speed Internet access that is faster than accessing the Internet through telephone lines or dial up. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the United States authority on telecommunications and information services, defines broadband as “Internet connection with a download speed of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) and an upload speed of 3 Mbps.”
There are two main types of broadband. Mobile Broadband is designed for constant, on-the-go use; fixed broadband is designed more for stationary use in homes or businesses. Examples of broadband services are satellite, cable, DSL, and fiber. Broadband service from satellites is often impacted by line-of-sight problems, and cable broadband services are provided by TV cable companies. DSL, or Digital Subscriber Line, is delivered by a mix of traditional copper phone lines and fiber. Fiber, as in fiber optics, is the use of glass fibers to carry data; although faster than copper, fiber requires new infrastructure that is expensive to install (Connected Nation).
Fiber contributes to new technology generations, abbreviated to G. There is a 1G and a 2G, but 3G was the first informally-set standard for wireless technology, and is understood as basic Web browsing, email, and video and picture downloading. 4G provides these services at a faster rate, and LTE, Long Term Evolution, is the latest and fastest of the 4G technology. Recently, technology companies have started advertising 5G services. 5G focuses on advanced technologies and the “Internet of Things,” such as artificial intelligence and the interconnectivity of devices – like Amazon’s Alexa, but on a grander scale (What’s a G?). 5G is still mostly in the development stages, but is already becoming “a bone of contention” since it will require new many new physical components to tech systems, such as new towers, utility poles, and buildings – “most cities want 5G, but they don’t want to be told how, when and at what cost” (WSJ).
Basics about the Digital Economy
In 2016, Our World in Data estimated that almost 3.5 billion people had access to the Internet. The World Economic Forum, an international organization for public-private economic cooperation, says that number will reach 4 billion people by 2020. This includes connectivity to the Internet as well as to the entire social and economic system that this technology has created.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis calls the digital economy the “contribution of high-tech goods and services, international trade, digital-enabling infrastructure, e-commerce transactions and digital media” to GDP. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, global exports of information and communication technologies (ICT) services grew by 40 percent between 2010 and 2015. In 2015, worldwide e-commerce sales amounted to over $25 trillion (UNCTAD). In the United States, exported services delivered via technology (such as ridesharing services through mobile apps) accounted for $400 billion in 2014, over half the value of United States’ service exports (Department of Commerce). Some project that online retail sales in the US could reach $600 billion by 2020 and up to $1 trillion by 2027 (FTI Consulting, Emarketer).
In the developing world, the digital economy has created new opportunities for smaller businesses and entrepreneurs, especially women. For example, “trade in tasks” (as opposed to “trade in goods”) allows anyone with connectivity and skills to sell their services abroad. Approximately 40 million people access these online platforms to look for or offer services.
Still, broadband in developing countries can be slow and expensive, which limits income-generating opportunities. There is concern that increases in technological innovation will lead to increases in global digital polarization. International bodies such as the UNCTAD and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a forum for governments that promotes economic and social well-being, stress the importance of promoting technological developments and policy frameworks that will allow countries to engage in the digital economy.
The Role of Government
Digital infrastructure is a shared service that benefits all users by growing the economy and improving quality of life. In the United States, government was involved during the development of the Internet prototype, ARPANET, and the TCP/IP, which still serves as an Internet standard (Foundation for Economic Education). The government has also helped establish the role of the private sector in the digital world. Today, the Department of Commerce maintains that around the world, “governments, working in concert with other stakeholders, must create a legal, policy, and diplomatic environment conducive to creativity, competition, and investment.”
Governments can influence the digital landscape by:
- Generating policies that remove regulatory barriers to support competition
- Developing strategies for resource management to finance access and innovation
- Enacting reforms to promote an open internet while also protecting privacy
Such reforms usually involve making digital infrastructure more affordable, providing incentives for public institutions, businesses, or individuals to adopt technologies, and advancing social and economic goals, although methods differ across countries. Australia and France, for example, have digital infrastructure investment programs that use government funds. In the United States, there is more emphasis on performance standards and policies that encourage private sector involvement and competition (Council on Foreign Relations).
More specifically, U.S. government activity in the digital landscape has focused on cybersecurity, data protection, Net Neutrality, and access to broadband (more on these areas below). There is also debate around removing regulatory barriers to enable deployment of existing technologies and clear the way for newer technologies. Other contested issues include competition and antitrust enforcement when it comes to large technology companies, and strategies for unused or underutilized government held spectrum, particularly in the race to 5G.
United States Governing Commissions
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an independent government agency that is overseen by Congress, serves as the “primary authority for communications law, regulation and technological innovation.” The president appoints and the Senate confirms five commissioners to direct the FCC, and the president selects one to serve as chairman. The FCC is organized into a number of bureaus and offices that develop regulatory programs, encourage innovation and investment, conduct investigations, oversee homeland security, and manage public safety.
The FCC itself also has its critics; the commission and its vast and complicated web of policies have been labelled “opaque and prone to failure.” Additionally, the charge to uphold “the public interest” is broad, and critics say this ambiguity protects the FCC from legal responsibility (National Affairs).
Besides the FCC, the main body that handles public policy and challenges in the digital landscape is theInternet Policy Task Force (IPTF), which includes an array of experts from Department of Commerce agencies, including the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), and the International Trade Administration (ITA).Additionally, the Department of Commerce sets the domestic and international digital agenda, which includes (1) ensuring a free and open internet; (2) providing consumer data protections; (3) innovating and updating standards; and (4) focusing on users.
Ensure a Free and Open Internet
The Department of Commerce supports a multi-stakeholder model to foster a consensus-driven policy-making process. One example is the 2015 UN review of initiatives from the 2003 and 2005 World Summits on the Information Society. The meeting created the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to promote best practices for exchanging information.
Provide Consumer Data Protections
Efforts to protect consumers’ data resulted in the 2012 Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights, which requires privacy notices for consumers. International efforts include the Privacy Shield to protect data flows between the United States, the European Union, and Switzerland, and the Cross Border Privacy Rules, a similar measure with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
Innovate and Update Technology Standards
Intellectual property rights and access to data are the main focuses to promote innovation. The TM5 USPTO is a forum that promotes cooperation among five of the world’s largest trademark offices, and handles half of worldwide trademark applications. Projects to make data more accessible include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Big Data Project. The project creates an open platform for the private sector and academia to access NOAA data, and has formed successful partnerships in areas such as renewable energy and navigation.
Focus on Users
Availability, cost, and technological skill level are barriers to unlimited Internet access, primarily for senior citizens, low-income Americans, and Americans living in rural areas. One 2009 effort was the FCC’s National Broadband Plan to ensure more affordable and faster Internet access to homes, schools and hospitals. The plan works with BroadbandUSA, which provides technical assistance to local, state, and federal institutions as well as private organizations and academia.
The Influence of Regulations and Legislation
The Telecommunications Act
A key question as Internet services were developed was whether they were telecommunications or information services. In 1996 the FCC under the Clinton Administration passed the Telecommunications Act. The act established a clear distinction between telecommunications services (telephone systems) and information services (at the time, private data systems). This was important because Title II of the Act subjected telecommunications services to FCC regulation, but did not regulate information services the same way. FCC Chairman Bill Kennard claimed the goal was to keep the Internet as unregulated as possible. The act resulted in an incredible boom in cable broadband investment and competition.
Technological advancements soon caused the convergence of the broadband and telephone markets. By the end of the 1990s, consumers demanded telephone companies offer data services, but this was difficult under the 1996 Act. Consumer demands also led to new questions about how to categorize broadband: If a telephone company provided Internet, was it an information or telecommunications service? In 2002 FCC Chairman Michael Powell ruled that Internet access provided by cable companies (such as Verizon and AT&T) was an information service and not a telecommunications service, meaning it would no longer be under FCC regulation. The ruling accounted for new innovations in broadband and created a new market for plenty of investment by telecommunications companies, cable companies, and wireless providers.
Given the extent of new competition, the FCC presented the Internet Policy Statement to guide management of network traffic in 2005. In 2010, this became the Open Internet Order, which prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from discriminating against content providers. Verizon sued the FCC in response, claiming the FCC did not have the authority to regulate ISPs based on Title II. In January of 2014, the Court sided with Verizon and started the debate around Net Neutrality (Progressive Policy Institute). Net Neutrality is covered in more detail below.
The Communications Decency Act
Title V of the Telecommunications Act, the Communications Decency Act, includes “one of the most valuable tools for protecting freedom of expression and innovation on the Internet: Section 230.” Section 230 says that “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” This means that providers are not legally accountable for content published on their platforms; people can upload videos to YouTube and or leave reviews on Amazon without either company being sued for the content (Electronic Frontier Foundation). There are exceptions for criminal claims, but in general Section 230 has “let online speech and commerce flourish without the constant threat of frivolous lawsuits looming overhead” (Adam Thierer).
Section 230 has not gone unopposed. In 2018, Senator Ted Cruz accused Facebook of not being “politically neutral” and said the company should be held liable. Section 230 does not require political neutrality, but the argument has sparked debate for a Fairness Doctrine that would limit Section 230 protections to “neutral public platforms.” Others argue that Section 230 provides too much immunity for providers; in terms of child safety, the law could prevent “parents from bringing a claim of negligence against [a social networking site] for failing to protect the safety of its users” (Tech Liberation). Many fear that government action on Section 230 would upend web-related activity, and argue that such management violates freedom of speech (CATO).
Principles of Reform
Expanding Broadband Access
Much of recent broadband legislation in the United States has addressed the “the Rural Broadband Gap.” Nearly 25 million Americans lack broadband connectivity, 19 million of which live in rural communities (NTIA). Having disconnected sectors of the population “undermines policy objectives in areas such as health and education, as well as broader economic and social development” since private and public services require reliable broadband (OECD: Rural Divide).
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 allocated $600 million to the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service for the ReConnect Program to expand telecommunications services in underserved areas. In December of 2018, Congress also passed the Farm Bill, which allocated another $350 million over 5 years to broadband-related infrastructure projects for rural areas (Connected Nation). Broadband deployment in 2016 fell short of policy goals, prompting more “concrete actions to reduce regulatory barriers.” Such actions still remain works in progress (Broadband Report 2018).
Local Communities Get It Done
There have been a number of local initiatives to find the best solutions for individual communities. The local government in Chattanooga, Tennessee launched an initiative to provide faster broadband services to the municipality in an effort to attract more business investment. Whether such municipal projects are financially sound is unclear. Government-backed entities depend on taxpayer dollars and charge less than private businesses would, and one such project in Utah found itself $350 million in debt over 9 years (Forbes).
Working with the private sector is another option. In January of 2015, New York’s Broadband Program Office began its own public/private partnership program to more quickly develop broadband services in underserved areas. The program provides state grant funding for projects proposed by Internet service providers. The state and has formed partnerships with 34 companies, including local companies such as Windstream New York in the state’s western regions and Mohawk Networks in North County. In the private sector, AT&T’s Project AirGig is developing technology to use radio waves to secure faster broadband access, while Google’s Project Loon is doing the same with its networks of balloons (Council on Foreign Relations).
Source Link: Connect2HealthFCC
Increasing Broadband to Support Education
Gaps in broadband connectivity can have negative effects on other social and economic sectors, including education. Technology is regularly used in the classroom, and students are frequently assigned work that requires Internet use. In higher education, online classes and “self-paced e-learning” were already globally generating almost $43 billion annually by 2013 (OECD: Education). However, there are many who lack access to broadband’s educational benefits. The “homework gap,” the gap between households with school-age children that have knowledge of and access to broadband and those who do not, is a barrier not only to learning but also to participating in broader online communities and the digital economy (ACT Center)
Source link: ACT Center
Many countries rely on the government and national education ministries to expand broadband access to schools and students, and to determine how digital skills will be incorporated into curricula. A number of public/private partnerships have also focused on providing educational opportunities. The Obama Administration’s Computer Science for All Initiative used government funding and private sector efforts from companies such as Google and Microsoft to equip students with technology skills, with the goal of supporting “active citizens in our technology-driven world.”
Utilizing Digital Infrastructure to Improve Healthcare
The healthcare industry faces difficulties upgrading to new technologies due to the complexity of medical systems and the massive amounts of data hospitals generate (MedCity News). For healthcare providers, interoperability presents the greatest challenge. The “interoperability hurdle” refers to “the capacity of health information systems to work together within and across organizational boundaries.” There is no single place where physicians can go to find patient data, and Stanford found that fewer than one-third of hospitals can electronically “find, send, receive, and integrate patient information from another provider” – most hospitals still fax paperwork. However, once different hospitals and healthcare systems start sharing data, it may become unclear which parties own which data sets, and data breaches in healthcare tend to cost more than any other industry due to HIPAA fines and lawsuits (Stanford Medicine).
Federal resources have mostly gone to encouraging new technologies. The FDA Digital Health Innovation Action Plan loosens regulations to provide patients and providers with access to “high-quality, safe and effective digital health products,” such as mobile apps that track data or display medical imaging. This has fostered collaborative projects such as the Apple Heart Study, which recruited 400,000 participants to test Apple Watch technology that could detect atrial fibrillation. Between 2013 and 2017 Alphabet, Microsoft, and Apple together filed over 300 health care patents for such wearable technologies. Uber and Lyft have also entered healthcare to provide patients with rides to and from doctor appointments (Stanford Medicine).
Comcast has taken a big step in another direction by announcing a partnership with Independence Health Group, an insurer based in Philadelphia, to test the efficacy of a public/private partnership in healthcare. The venture, called 1819 LLC, is “a digital health company focused on creating a consumer-oriented platform offering educational content and telemedicine services.” The project is in the planning phase.
Telemedicine refers to the use of Internet and communication technologies to support long-distance clinical health care (HealthIT.gov). Digital infrastructure is critical for telemedicine, as connectivity allows physicians in city centers to train physicians or communicate with patients in rural or remote locations. One development is telesurgery, which allows surgeons to operate on patients through robotic technology and wireless networks. Here is an example. Although not yet widely used in clinical settings due to legal and ethical questions as well as a lack of funding, this eliminates geographical and financial barriers while ensuring timely treatment for patients who are unable to travel long distances. Delays in transferring audio or visual feedback between two locations is one concern, though it may be solved with the development of 5G technologies. See how telemedicine is being used for emergency purposes here.
Protecting Data Privacy and Open Internet
The progress of technology in the last twenty years has resulted in incredible advancements, many of which have occurred because government data is open and businesses are allowed to innovate. Still, data breaches (see Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, and Marriott) and fraudulent websites have sparked concerns about a completely open Internet. Even World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee has spoken in favor of governments protecting consumers and their privacy (CNBC). The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is in charge of protecting consumers’ privacy and security in the United States, but federal legislators acknowledge that many laws put “the burden on individuals” and that responsibility should shift to “companies to handle data fairly.” Senate Commerce Committee chair Roger Wicker (R-MI) has supported enacting a privacy law by the end of 2019. The Data Care Act (Brian Schatz, D-HI) was introduced in December 2018, and the Consumer Data Protection Act (Ron Wyden, D-OR) is currently being drafted (Brookings).
At the state level, California has passed its own Consumer Privacy Act, which focuses on consumers’ right to dictate how their data can be used. The law could heavily impact California’s digital economy; consumers’ rights to delete their data will affect companies that earn revenue through targeted advertising or by collecting and selling data to third parties. Such companies that operate nationally but have customers in California will need to change their business paradigm or develop a “patchwork data regime” to comply with the California law (Harvard Business Review).
Conversely, in 2018, Europe implemented one overarching General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to streamline data privacy. Under the new rules, businesses cannot track EU residents’ data unless residents opt-in, and residents can request any business grant them access to their data profile within 30 days. Since its May 2018 implementation, there have been a number of complaints filed, mainly against Google, Instagram, WhatsApps, and Facebook for not following the new rules. The regulations have also prompted countries including Brazil, Chile, and India to pass their own data protection laws. However, there have been concerns that the protection laws could be used for censorship (Electronic Frontier Foundation).
Government oversight of the Internet usually brings up Net Neutrality, which refers to the “concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.” This means Internet Service Providers (ISPs) cannot privilege their own content or slow down their competitors’ content. For example, an ISP such as Comcast is not allowed to slow video streaming services from Netflix or Amazon because they compete with a Comcast cable plan (PGI). Net Neutrality reflects tension between service providers, who want to process and serve data to consumers quickly, and content creators, who want everyone everywhere to see their content.
After the January 2014 Verizon lawsuit, the Washington, D.C. District Court claimed that the FCC did not have the authority to regulate ISPs, but left it to rework the rules. In May of 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler introduced Net Neutrality rules. After receiving a large amount of public support, the FCC voted to pass the Open Internet Order in February of 2015. This reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service and, based on Title II of the 1996 Communications Act, brought broadband services under FCC regulation (Public Knowledge).
The Net Neutrality rules that came with the Open Internet Order remained in effect until 2017 when Ajit Pai, current chairman of the FCC, moved to reverse the 2015 decision. In December of 2017, a proposal passed that repealed the Open Internet Order, reclassifying broadband as an information service and ending FCC regulation (PGI).
Mozilla and several internet companies including Etsy and Reddit joined 22 state attorneys general in their case against the FCC’s decision. In October 2019, a federal appeals court upheld the FCC’s Net Neutrality repeal, which “reinstated the less regulated classification of broadband.” However, the court ruled the FCC was overstepped its authority by barring states from passing their own net neutrality protections, and struck down that provision.
Net Neutrality supporters fear that ISPs may charge content providers for privileged access to their networks, which will result in higher costs for consumers. These “Internet fast lanes” could favor established companies that have the funding to pay. Chairman Pai, however, says that ISPs will voluntarily uphold Net Neutrality in service agreements with customers (The Hill). Pai adds that the Federal Trade Commission could handle any anti-competitive behavior by ISPs (NPR). Critics of Net Neutrality also maintain that unnecessary regulations could increase costs and decrease the quality of services provided. The debate is ongoing, and it remains unclear what the FCC’s authority over the Internet should look like (PGI).
So how does the US compare with the rest of the world when it comes to digital infrastructure? The United States ranked 6th worldwide on the World Intellectual Property Organization’s 2018 Global Innovation Index, down two spots from its 2017 ranking. The US remains first in research and development investment, and is second behind China in total number of patents and scientific publications. One successful international development was the NIST’s Smart Grid Interoperability Framework and the Roadmap for Smart Grid Interoperability Standards. The frameworks are the primary references for power grid interoperability standards in the United States, Japan, Korea, China, and the European Union (Department of Commerce).
Source: The Guardian
The United States’ international broadband rankings have mixed results. In 2018, the US ranked 20th in worldwide broadband speed (The Guardian). Currently, China, South Korea, and the U.S. are leading the race to establish a functioning 5G network, with China appearing to be pulling ahead (Carnegie Endowment). This has mounted tensions between the U.S. and China. The U.S. has openly scrutinized Chinese technology companies, including China’s largest video surveillance company Hikvision, and Huawei (pronounced wah-wey), one of the world’s top smartphone makers and leaders in telecommunications infrastructure. Citing national security concerns – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has explained, “‘that the Chinese are working to put their systems in networks all across the world so they can steal your information and my information’.” – the U.S. has blacklisted Hikvision and U.S. government agencies are banned from using technology sold by Huawei. Huawei disputes these allegations.
Germany, Slovakia, and Hungary, however, are more hesitant to block Huawei from building high-speed Internet infrastructure (WSJ). Given Europe’s slow progress in 5G and the extent to which Chinese firms operate in Europe, their exclusion could increase costs for consumers. There is also potential for a split between Chinese and non-Chinese networks as 5G infrastructure develops (Carnegie Endowment). Such a gap could result in political divisions and interoperability issues. That these concerns coincide with a broader US crackdown on Chinese tariffs and investment restrictions has also made some countries question whether the concern is about national security or about creating an American competitive advantage in the race to 5G.The US focus on Huawei – including criminal charges against its CFO – has coincided with other negative responses to Chinese equipment: New Zealand and Australia have banned equipment from Huawei and ZTE, another Chinese company, and France and Great Britain have started to break ties with Huawei (CNN). Additionally, Poland made a pair of espionage arrests, indicating that Huawei may be engaged in spying through government-planted employees (New York Times).
Enhancing Cybersecurity Measures
As the race to build a 5G network continues, it has become clear that whichever country dominates the system will control its information flow and “will gain an economic, intelligence, and military edge”(New York Times). This understanding has raised concerns about cyberattacks, which have doubled since 2015 (Reuters).
In January of 2018, leaders from the CIA, FBI, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and National Security Agency presented the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment in a Senate hearing. The assessment addressed China’s improving cyberattack abilities, Russia’s use of social media to influence political campaigns, and North Korea’s financial attacks including attempts to steal over $1 billion from financial institutions around the world (CNBC).
This comes after the September 2018 release of the US National Cyber Strategy. The report, which also mentions threats from Russia, China, and North Korea, outlines a strategy to address cyberthreats while keeping the Internet open and reliable. Focuses include working with partner nations to develop and share best practices, such as the Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe, the “only binding international instrument” on cybersecurity. Within the federal government, reforms include increased cross-agency cooperation, especially across the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. The public sector must also work with academia and civil society to to maintain an educated workforce aware of cyberthreats.
Finally, the strategy aims to foster collaboration with the private sector to protect the technology marketplace. The private sector has played a large role in recent years: In 2018, total global venture capital investments in cybersecurity totaled a record high of $5.3 billion. Cybersecurity firms from the United States accounted for almost half of the total investment, and there has been a significant increase in investment in Asian and European technology companies.
Additionally, the White House announced plans to work with U.S. technology companies such as Microsoft, Dell, and AT&T to build advanced software for 5G networks and “have all the U.S. 5G architecture and infrastructure done by American firms, principally.”
Ways to get involved/what can you do?
As the global digital infrastructure continues to develop and the global digital economy continues to grow, it will be necessary for public and private stakeholders, from governments and international organizations to businesses and individual users, to collaborate and ensure the safety, reliability, and equal distribution of digital advancements.
Congressional Committees and Federal Agencies to watch:
- Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
- House Science, Space, and Technology Committee
- The General Services Administration, and relevant issues from the Commerce Department
- The White House’s page on Infrastructure and Technology
Stay up to date with your state’s offices for information technology:
- To check your state’s recent legislation, you can Google “technology initiatives,” “technology task force,” or “digital infrastructure” and your state, or use the search bar on your state government’s homepage
What can you follow or bring to your community?
- Project Loon
- Local initiatives such as that of New York or Chattanooga, Tennessee, if they are financially viable options
- USDA’s ReConnect Program for rural development. See if your area is eligible here.
- Harvard Business School’s Digital Initiative, Duke Digital Initiative, and MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy are some examples of universities exploring emerging technologies. See what initiatives or research your alma mater or state universities are involved in.
What are you passionate about?
- Bridge the gap: Are there people in your area who do not have Internet access to find jobs or excel in school?
- Report fraud: How can you protect seniors (and other citizens) in your community?
- Learn and engage: How is your local city data protected? How much does your company depend on digital infrastructure to operate, serve customers, and plan for a disaster? How do you protect your data?
- The website haveibeenpwned.com will tell you whether your email has been compromised via a hack, so you can take steps to fix it.
Other associations include:
- The State Science and Technology Institute is a national nonprofit organization that offers services, information, and support for technology innovation.
- Women in Technology advances women in technology by providing support, leadership development, education, and networking and mentoring opportunities around the Washington, D.C./Maryland/Virginia metro region.
- NPower, operating in New York, New Jersey, Texas, California, Maryland, and Missouri, aims to empower a digital workforce, specifically young adults from underserved communities and military veterans
- Opportunity Education is a United States-based foundation that seeks to improve primary and secondary education around the world by using technology and digital learning to empower students and teachers.
- The HP Catalyst Initiative is a global project that has support from academia and international organizations such as the Carnegie Corporation, the Consortium for School Networking, and the National Science Resources Center. The initiative has a number programs based out of universities around the world.
- The international non-profit organization Health Level Seven (HL7) sets standards in over 50 countries for sharing electronic health information
How much data do hospitals produce? CIO
Where is the line between data protection and cybersecurity? TechCrunch
How big a threat are international cyberattacks? Worldwide Threat Assessment
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