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Catalyst for Growth: America’s Hybrid Infrastructure

From the beginning, abundant natural resources, navigable waterways and extensive terrain have provided the backbone for commerce and community in the United States. The industrial age used these strengths and extended them through a rapid expansion of the nation’s physical infrastructure, including the construction of the electrical, highway and rail systems. The development of telegraph, telephone, radio and television networks created critical communication infrastructure and contributed to a more connected society. And the information technology (IT) revolution during the latter half of the 20th century ushered in new digital infrastructure, such as the Internet, private information networks and robust wireless technologies, which led to another wave of innovation and economic growth in the nation. Throughout this development, physical and digital infrastructure were largely separate.

Today, the nation stands poised to benefit from another wave of growth based on hybrid infrastructure — the integration of IT with traditional physical infrastructure to deliver more efficient and effective capabilities. While many hybrid infrastructures are deployed today and are already transforming industries, significant barriers still must be overcome. To that end, this paper calls for policymakers to work with the private sector to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for hybrid infrastructure that aggressively invests in the development and deployment of these technologies, eliminates regulatory barriers to their use, and promotes the importance of hybrid infrastructure to the economic future of the country.

To start this dialogue, this paper examines benefits and opportunities associated with the deployment of five leading hybrid infrastructures: cloud computing, mobile payment systems, sensor networks, the smart grid and the Next- Generation Air Transportation System. The paper concludes with public policy recommendations designed to maximize the potential benefits of further deployment of hybrid infrastructures.