Technology has vastly improved business productivity and has made remote work possible for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. Technology also has the ability to bolster the smart grid, allowing energy companies to become more sustainable, a boon to customers. The increase in technology usage also exposed inequalities that exist domestically and worldwide, namely the divide between those who have access to broadband and those who do not. The ideas of diversity and inclusion have tendrils flowing into many elements of technology, including broadband access, government contracting, and ways for entrepreneurs to introduce their ideas to the marketplace.

A recent Inc. 5000 webinar featured technology--specifically broadband--and highlighted how a proposed $65 million included in the federal infrastructure bill could improve technology infrastructure. The webinar featured a panel discussion with Joseph Boyle, CEO of TRUCE Software, leading provider of Contextual Mobility Management solutions for businesses; Dean Hager, CEO of Jamf, a software company that helps companies manage Apple devices; and Nooshin Behroyan, founder and CEO of energy management company Paxon. Here are five takeaways from that conversation:

1. Broadband helps people work smarter and more productively

Broadband provides an opportunity to dramatically boost workplace productivity, along with improving equity and education. The infrastructure bill's proposed $65 billion for universal broadband infrastructure would provide a lasting investment to help power the smart grid for future generations. Increased access to broadband would provide high-speed connectivity for all, leveraging connectivity to drive business process digitalization and more mobility.

2. Broadband can improve the smart grid

Broadband promises to improve infrastructure design planning for smart grid and energy solutions. "How can we build the infrastructure smarter?" Behroyan asks. The infrastructure money will go toward newer capital products, with innovative designs. "When we look at building the electrical infrastructure now versus what was built 50 years ago or even longer than that, we have a different take on it." Technology, including broadband, can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions like carbon and methane. A smart grid would make it possible to respond more effectively to extreme weather conditions and catastrophic events like the wildfires in California. The idea is to build an energy infrastructure that better serves future generations for decades or centuries to come.

3. Infrastructure can help with corporate sustainability goals

Companies, including energy firms, may have looked for best practices and proactive ways to decrease energy usage in the past, Behroyan says. "Nowadays, all these utilities have commitments to being zero emission. Now, it's more of a commitment," she says. Broadband can help create and improve smart grids, improve sustainability efforts, and help companies meet corporate sustainability goals.

4. Technology's role in inclusivity

The pandemic highlighted the need for broadband investments for accessibility. "[The pandemic] also exposed the inequities of our current infrastructure," says Boyle. It's impossible to move forward domestically and globally with technological advances without including everyone. The technology infrastructure is an equalizer.

From a diversity and inclusion perspective, a greater diversity of voices leads to a wider range of technologies and innovations. Robust government supplier diversity programs encourage the use of companies owned by women, veterans, minorities, and LGBTQ+ people. "The [infrastructure] bill at its core, it has that mindset that from a government contracting standpoint, we've got to include all these other companies regardless of the size and create opportunities for business entities that are historically known to be disadvantaged in the business realm," says Behroyan.

5. Schoolchildren need equal access to broadband

Connectivity creates greater equity and more opportunities for students who previously did not have access to technology. "Prior to the pandemic, teachers would send students home to do their homework, and the wealthy children had great computers to do their homework on, and the students with fewer resources did not have technology at home, maybe not even connectivity at home," Hager says. The pandemic exposed this inequity. "Fortunately, something's being done about it from the technology perspective, but it must be done from the connectivity perspective as well," he says.

Funding for broadband in the federal infrastructure bill has the potential to not only help businesses be more productive, but to bolster the smart grid, improve sustainability efforts, and provide equitable access to all who need it.