Sunday, May 8, 2016

HR 5117 Introduced – DIGIT Act

Last month Rep. Paulsen (R,MN) introduced HR 5117, the Developing Innovation and Growing the Internet of Things (DIGIT) Act. There are many similarities between this bill and S 2607 as it was introduced, but it may serve as a companion bill to S 2607 as it was amended in the Senate Commerce, Science and Technology Committee on April 27th, but a full record of that hearing is not yet publicly available.

New Requirements

The main difference between this bill and the original version of S 2607 is that this bill would require the Department of Commerce Steering Committee to do a more detailed and widespread look at federal efforts that would support the wide spread deployment of the Internet of Things than just the specific requirement to look at spectrum availability concerns. The additional areas that the Steering Committee would be required to look at include {§4(e)}:

• The identification of any Federal regulations, statutes, grant practices, programs, budgetary or jurisdictional challenges, and other sector-specific policies that are inhibiting or could inhibit the development of the Internet of Things;
• Policies or programs that promote or are related to the privacy of individuals who use or are affected by the Internet of Things;
• Policies or programs that may enhance the security of the Internet of Things;
• Policies or programs that may protect users of the Internet of Things;
• Policies or programs that may encourage coordination among Federal agencies with jurisdiction over the Internet of Things; and
• Any international proceeding, international negotiation, or other international matter affecting the Internet of Things to which the United States is or should be a party.

Moving Forward

Paulsen is not a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to which the bill was assigned for consideration. His co-sponsor, Rep. Welch (D,VT), is a relatively junior member of that Committee, so there is an outside chance that this bill could receive consideration in that Committee.

S 2607 is apparently moving forward in the Senate, but it is too early to tell if that bill will make it to the floor of the Senate. And it is way too early to tell if this bill is moving forward. Having said that, neither version of the bill has anything that would alarm businesses. This new version of the bill addresses privacy and security concerns so those objections to the bill appear to have been assuaged. If the bill did make it to the floor of either body, it would probably be adopted with little or no debate, no amendments and probably a voice vote in the House and not even that level of formality in the Senate.


While this bill addresses many of the concerns that I expressed earlier about S 2607, it looks like the crafters of the bill were making a conscious effort to short out any concerns about the security issues associated with IOT deployments. The failure to include DHS in the Federal Working Group cuts out the one agency that is responsible for tracking cybersecurity issues and is responsible for regulating cybersecurity issues in many critical infrastructure organizations.

Interestingly, the two committees with DHS oversight and shared concerns about cybersecurity have also been shut out of consideration of these bills. The lack of inclusion of DHS in the Federal Working Group may have been designed to keep the two DHS oversight committees out of the picture. In any case it looks like there may be some inter-committee competition here that could further confuse the issue.

Having said all of that the issue of available bandwidth addressed in both bills is important and deserves consideration. The whole basis for the utility of IOT is the communication with millions of standalone processors with other processors and networks. While some of these connections will be wired, most will be wireless connections over a limited amount of available bandwidth.

Reliable wireless communication requires either time or frequency separation of signals. As more and more devices are sending more and more signals over the limited available bandwidth there are going to be communications issues that arise. Of course, IOT is not the only new technology where this bandwidth issue raises its ugly head. The railroads had a similar issue when they were designing their Positive Train Control (PTC) systems. And bandwidth is going to be an issue with vehicle-to-vehicle communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure communications.

Some bandwidth can be made available when new digital communications technologies replace older analog communications. We saw this with the rise of digital TV; there old broadcast frequencies were able to carry three or more TV signals when converted to digital broadcast. That will help, but it will not be the solution to this problem as the increase in the number of broadcast nodes is rising much faster than the available bandwidth can handle.

What we are probably going to have to see is the establishment of some sort of local mesh networks that includes of communications switching capabilities that allow for time separation of signals. I’m not sure that this is going to be something that the government is going to be able to regulate; just look at the political issues related to broad-band regulations.

In any case, a federal working group looking at the communications issues associated with the IOT should be a good thing. I’m not sure that there is any real need for federal agencies to do anything else to ‘promote’ the use of IOT; it appears that IOT is spreading quite well on its own.

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