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Weighing the politics of smart city tech

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 6, 2016
Atlanta mayor says tech vendors need to assure elected officials that supporting smart tech will be amenable to voters.

Internet of things nest stoplights traffic IoT cameras
Credit: CSO staff

AT&T's heavy focus on smart city Internet of Things technology comes with some weighty political overtones, including how taxpayers and voters will react.

The topic of voter consent with Internet of Things rollouts arose Tuesday during a panel discussion during the AT&T Developer Summit. It featured the mayor of Atlanta, an FCC commissioner and the CEOs of Intel and Ericsson. The event is held annually prior to the opening of CES and attracts hundreds of developers.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said companies like AT&T, Ericsson and Intel have to introduce smart technology to mayors and city councils in ways that can help elected officials get re-elected. He suggested that smart city tech vendors open their meetings with city officials by saying, "What I will tell you isn't going to get you beat" in the next election.

Reed's remark drew laughter from the crowd of developers, as did his insight that city mayors and councils, not federal officials, must be the crucibles for smart tech rollouts.

"In Atlanta, you need me and eight votes [on the council]. You should meet with me rather than go to Washington," he said.

Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was also on the panel, and perked up at Reed's remark. After Reed said it was more important for vendors to go to cities than Washington with tech ideas, he told the FCC commissioner, "I meant that in a loving way."

But Reed's frankness came with an important kernel of truth about the private-public partnerships that must evolve with Internet of Things tech. AT&T announced it is working with Atlanta as well as Chicago and Dallas on smart city innovations that would give cities a more comprehensive look at power failures, water leaks and traffic, among other things.

Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at Technalysis, said cities that invest in smart city projects will have to weigh the benefits of adding sensors to water and sewer lines and streetlights -- among other infrastructure -- compared to spending public funds on social problems like helping the homeless and drug addicted in their communities.

"It's really a hard question of whether you focus on the homeless and drug addicted in a city, so you have to ask what is the priority for opening up parking spaces for the rich" with a smart app that relies on video sensors focused on parking areas, O'Donnell said in an interview in after the panel discussion.

The biggest questions city mayors will face is how smart city elements are paid for, including how much taxpayers will be dinged, O'Donnell added. While tech vendors might be willing to do upfront smart city projects to seed the technology, they will surely expect a payoff in coming years.


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