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3 big tech changes to be thankful for in 2021

There’s a lot to catch up on during this year’s Thanksgiving meal, and it’s not all related to the pandemic, either. Despite global computer chip shortages and shipping issues, the US has made progress on a few other pressing tech issues. Changes to Facebook and some of its more concerning practices, increased governmental funding for services like cybersecurity and transportation, and better accessibility to electronics repairs on the consumer side are a few of the major tech happenings to be thankful for this year.

First came an executive order from President Joe Biden over the summer aimed at reducing monopoly that makes it difficult to get smartphones, laptops, and other products repaired directly. The order calls on the Federal Trade Commission to hold manufacturers accountable for restricting access to needed parts for repairs and making in-house repairs pricey.

Tech companies, including big names like Microsoft, Apple, Motorola, HP, and Dell, have begun to make it easier to send in goods to get fixed, or for consumers to even make the fixes themselves, in light of the executive order and right to repair activism. Apple just announced its intent to make self-service repairs available for iPhones 12 and 13 this November, and Microsoft agreed in October to expand their repair options for devices, directly acknowledging the amount of electronic waste they produce every year.

The package allocates $2 billion for cybersecurity over four years, half of which will go toward state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. Another $21 million chunk will make its way to the Office of the National Cyber Director, a newer agency responsible for advising the president on cybersecurity. And another $100 million will go to dealing with significant hacking or ransomware situations, as chosen by the Department of Homeland Security.

The act also includes the largest ever US investment in broadband internet with $65 billion. This is a rough estimate of how much it might cost to get internet access to everyone in America, as many go without the ability to connect to broadband infrastructure. When many were working from home during the first year of the pandemic, this lack of access became even more evident. Of that $65 billion, $42.4 billion will go toward a Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program, $14.2 billion will go toward subsidies for making internet more affordable, and $2 billion will go toward making sure Indigenous communities have workable connections as well.

The legislation includes a lot for transportation too—but ferries, a vital form of transport for some in rural areas connected by waterways, got special attention with a $1.6 billion allocation. From Manhattan to Southeast Alaska, these boats make a massive difference in the lives and commutes of individuals. The stream of funding can help combat problems ferry systems are facing, like staff shortages and aging vessels. Some of it is specifically designated for bringing in electric and low-carbon emission ferries.

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