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Labor Department Official Addresses Apprenticeships at Wireless Infrastructure Event

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February 25, 2021—As the demand for broadband continues to grow during the pandemic, so too must the workforce responsible for deploying it.

One avenue for growing this workforce is apprenticeships facilitated by broadband providers, often in conjunction with universities or trade organizations, such as the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

These apprenticeships are designed to provide people with paid opportunities to gain on-the-job experience, while also giving them a chance to work with mentors who can provide them with valuable insight into how the industry functions.

Carriers have many on-site technicians and other employees who have to complete essential work outside their home to keep the rest of the country at home. The pandemic has put more emphasis on the need of these workers and these apprenticeship programs can replenish any lost labor.

But what’s also a concern is whether the U.S. has enough of a workforce skilled enough to be able to rise to the challenges of 5G networks, which include new technologies and more connectivity points to manage.

John Ladd is an administrator in the Office of Apprenticeship with the Department of Labor. On a panel at the Connect X All Access Policy Summit 2021, Ladd stated that despite record levels of unemployment due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, more than 200,000 registered apprentices entered the workforce in 2020, in addition to a total of 2 million apprentices over the last five years.

“Apprenticeship works,” Ladd said. “And it works for everybody.”

Ladd claimed that apprenticeships in the wireless sector not only result in better wages and opportunities for employment for those doing the work, but funding apprenticeships also represents a strong return on investment for both broadband providers and the public. He said that recent presidential administrations recognized this and funded apprenticeship efforts in the past.

“We’re really fortunate that we’ve seen support for apprenticeship,” Ladd added.

Government support for apprenticeship programs

According to Ladd, the Obama Administration represented a renaissance for apprenticeships, and since then the support has continued.

“We’ve had [support] in the [Trump] Administration, and growing support as well in [the Biden] Administration.” He pointed to Biden’s affirmation of apprenticeships via a recent executive order. Though the order repealed former President Trump’s Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Program, it reinstated the National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships.

This move was made in part to get rid of what the Biden Administration viewed as “redundancies” and “inferior systems,” but it was also designed to ensure a diversification of apprenticeship programs and uplift disadvantaged communities.

“Apprenticeship provides help to diversify the workforce and reach new talent populations,” Ladd argued that this move would not only bring more women and people of color into the workforce, but it would also provide opportunities for veterans transitioning out of the military. He called these apprenticeships “pipelines of talent,” and just one of the many tools that the Biden Administration had in its toolbox to help the economy get back on track.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Education

Coalition Says FCC E-rate Portal Proposal Could Create More Problems

Industry officials say the commission’s approach to E-rate competition would burden applicants.

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John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2021 – The executive director of a broadband coalition for anchor institutions said the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to force providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal will burden those applicants.

The agency proposed Thursday to force service providers to submit applications through a bidding portal overseen by the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the E-rate program that provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries. The current approach is that libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers would apply directly to those institutions.

By giving USAC the ability to see service provider applications before they go to the institutions, the agency said this would eliminate at least some forms of abuse or fraud, including participants who may misrepresent their certification or circumvent competitive-bidding rules.

But John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said that while he applauds the effort to listen to consumer needs, the portal’s one-size-fits-all approach would ultimately burden E-rate applicants and service providers.

He also claimed that there is not enough evidence to show that a new portal is needed and that it “would add a lot more federal bureaucracy on a program that is running pretty well right now.

“You would have federal employees at USAC trying to make determinations about what’s…in the best interests of the schools or libraries,” said Windhausen, “And we don’t think they’re really qualified to do that.”

Windhausen also sees potential conflict between the new bidding portal and some state laws already governing E-rate bidding. In a scenario in which state law and FCC policy conflict, it is not clear which policy would take precedence.

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Education

FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money

The agency has now committed $3.8 billion from the $7.17-billion program.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s latest round of Emergency Connectivity Fund money will disburse $603 million to connect over 1.4 million students in all 50 states, the agency said Monday.

The FCC said it has now committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17-billion program, which provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers and connectivity to help students stay connected off school premises. The money comes as a new Covid-19 variant sweeps the nation again, putting face-to-face interactions at risk once again.

The agency also said Monday that it has allocated an additional $367 million in its first commitment and nearly $236 million in the second commitment.

The agency in October said that previous rounds had committed $2.63 billion from the fund since its launch in June.

The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said in a Monday release.

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Education

Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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