The Digital Future and NBCSL

On December 2, I had the absolute pleasure and privilege of speaking on a panel titled “The Future of Technology & Innovation: Where Are We” at the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL) in New Orleans. This is a group who gets it thanks in large part to the efforts of Senator Catherine Pugh (now Mayor Elect of Baltimore), who has championed digital readiness, inclusion and tele-health initiatives for many years. She is leaving a legacy as her two-year term as President of NBCSL concludes and it will be exciting to see her efforts expand in her new role.

(L-R) Mayor-Elect Catherine Pugh, Antonio "Tony" Williams, Senator Anastasia A. Pittman, Dr. Vladimir "Alex" Appeaning, Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Senator Valencia Seay, Chelsea Collier, Senator Kevin Parker 

(L-R) Mayor-Elect Catherine Pugh, Antonio "Tony" Williams, Senator Anastasia A. Pittman, Dr. Vladimir "Alex" Appeaning, Dr. Nicol Turner-Lee, Senator Valencia Seay, Chelsea Collier, Senator Kevin Parker 

The panel focused on how critical it is for communities – especially communities of color – to participate in the digital revolution. Moderator Nicol Turner Lee, Ph.D., a dynamic woman who is a Fellow at the Brookings Institution brought home how easy it is to get lost in the technology associated with Smart Cities – the sensors, the network, big data, IoT – but at the heart of this innovation are people. Each panelist emphasized this in their own brilliant way, sharing his or her perspective and experience along the way.

New York Senator Kevin Parker and Spencer Overton, President of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, each spoke about how as cities transform into Smart Cities, workforce opportunities will shift. Yes there will be new jobs created but there will also be many eliminated as the world becomes more automated. They each called out that now is the time to build the training and educational programs to ensure that the current workforce are future ready.

Beth Cooley, Director of State Legislative Affairs with CTIA, manages a membership of mobile network providers, wireless carriers, device manufacturers, suppliers and apps and content companies.  As Beth said, “if it’s wireless, we’re watching it.” She gave a great presentation on the Future of 5G, emphasizing the deluge of data and mobile broadband traffic that will continue to stress our wireless networks. She spoke about how small cells make a big difference in relieving network congestion. If consumers want more data at faster speeds, cities will need a small cell strategy while the world gets ready for 5G.

Tony Williams, Comcast, stressed that those cities that want technology investment to enable greater connectivity must pave the way with the right policy. Very quickly we will see that the cities that do so – like Pittsburgh, PA – will create a class of their own and as a result will realize the economic benefit. Cities that lag will be left behind. In the new digital economy, that is a place no one wants to be.

Dr. Vladimir “Alex” Appeaning focused on infrastructure through a different lens – water. And while that isn’t a smart city topic that surfaces as frequently as maybe it ought to, he opened up the conversation to ensure everyone realizes that there are many avenues for how technology will influence and hopefully improve infrastructure development.

My goal on the panel was to honor the work that has already been accomplished by the leaders of NBCSL and to encourage each elected official to work with their representative cities on digital readiness. As I’ve traveled recently in Germany, China and across the US, I’ve come to realize that no matter where you are in the world, each city desires the same thing for its citizens: greater access to prosperity. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city large or small, affluent or impoverished, high-tech or agrarian, everyone is working to discover better solutions to healthcare, education, transportation, energy, and the list goes on and on. Yes, each city is incredibly unique, but there are commonalities in the challenges seen across the board.

Our world is becoming increasingly connected and citizens will ultimately benefit but this transformation requires that city leaders put the right policies in place to encourage the greatest level of innovation possible. Public and private partnership will be key as this unfolds. During the panel, I provided hard copies and promised links to the Next Generation Network Checklist in hopes that it will help cities create their own policy roadmap.

Having grown up in Lafayette, Louisiana, it was a real honor to travel “home” and have the opportunity to meet with so many passionate elected officials who are clearly committed to creating strong communities. I’m honored to have been able to share my thoughts along with the impressive individuals on the panel and hope that this is the beginning of a tradition of talking about communities of color, digital inclusion and readiness.  

US, Tech, PolicyChelsea Collier5G, Policy