The U.S. Senate has approved a sweeping measure aimed to countering China’s technological strength, outlining $250 billion in spending designed to boost U.S. technology research and development and chip production. The bill also includes $1.5 billion in spending in support of “5G innovation”, including support of Open RAN.
The U.S. Innovation and Competition Act measure passed with bipartisan approval, by a vote of 68-32. It must pass the House of Representatives before it can be sent to President Joe Biden to be signed into law.
According to the executive summary of the bill, it pumps tens of billions of dollars into incentives for domestic semiconductor production and R&D, with some specific funding meant to build a more robust supply chain for the chips used by auto manufacturers.
The bill creates a new Directorate of Technology and Innovation at the National Science Foundation, and authorizes $81 billion for the NSF, that includes $29 billion over five years for the new directorate. It also directs the Department of Commerce to designate regional technology hubs across the country to support regional economic development in innovation, with $10 billion in funding over five years for those hubs. In relations to telecom specifically, the bill grants $35 million to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to “expand internet access to rural areas and tribal lands through the establishment of internet exchanges facilities and submarine cable landing station grants.” Another provision creates a grant program for telecom workforce training at the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives. The bill also directs $50 million in funding to the NTIA to “create a testbed to develop open network architecture technologies and applications and increase U.S. participation in international standards-setting bodies,” and it provides $1.5 billion for the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund, which was set up by Congress to help promote Open RAN initiatives and adoption.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said that the Senate vote “moves forward historic legislation to invest in science, technology, and U.S. manufacturing that will shore up critical industries like semiconductors, artificial intelligence, advanced communications like 5G, quantum computing, biotechnology, and advanced energy.” Schumer has pushed for such measures with the support of the semiconductor industry and reaffirmed his commitment to pursue more semiconductor investment incentive in a recent meeting with IBM CEO Arvind Krishna.
President Biden expressed support for the bill, noting that it included some elements from his overarching American Jobs Plan that could be advanced separately. “It is long past time that we invest in American workers and American innovation,” Biden said, adding that the “generational investments” being proposed by this bill and his other proposals involve “generational investments in research and development and advanced manufacturing to help us grow critical industries and win the jobs of the future.” Those investments, he said, “will empower us to discover, build, and enhance tomorrow’s most vital technologies — from artificial intelligence, to computer chips, to the lithium batteries used in smart devices and electric vehicles — right here in the United States. By strengthening our innovation infrastructure, we can lay the foundation for the next generation of American jobs and American leadership in manufacturing and technology.”
Representatives of China’s government, meanwhile, have condemned the bill.
“We firmly object to the United States seeing China as an imaginary enemy,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing, Reuters reported. The news agency made note of a number of other provisions in the bill related to China, including blocking the purchase of drones manufactured and sold by companies who are backed by the Chinese government, and a provision that social media app TikTok must not be downloaded onto government devices. According to an Associated Press report, Wang Wenbin also characterized the bill as “full of Cold War zero-sum thinking.” Additionally, the AP said that the Foreign Affairs Committee of China’s ceremonial legislature, the National People’s Congress, issued a statement today expressing its “strong dissatisfaction and resolute opposition” to the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, saying that the bill “seeks to exaggerate and spread the so-called ‘China threat’ to maintain global American hegemony, using human rights and religion as excuses to interfere in China’s domestic politics, and deprive China of its legitimate development rights. … No force should expect that China will swallow any bitter fruit that harms China’s sovereignty, security or development interests.”
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