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Union Association Requests Congress Attach Hiring Strings to Federal Broadband Dollars

The Communications Workers of America wants provisions in broadband bills barring hiring of subcontractors.

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CWA President Chris Shelton

July 12, 2021 – A union association representing workers in telecommunications is asking Congress to attach strings to federal dollars that go to broadband infrastructure, including forbidding telecommunications companies from subcontracting for builds.

As part of its “Build Broadband Better” campaign, launched Thursday, the Communications Workers of America said it will plow money into an advertising campaign to ensure internet access builds be done with “experienced, trained union workers, not low-wage subcontractors who make a quick buck and skip town.”

“The union is pushing for provisions that would prohibit companies that receive federal funding for broadband buildout from subcontracting the work in order to undercut its union employees jobs and standards and that would protect workers’ right to organize a union,” the CWA said in a Thursday press release, adding it will be lobbying all levels of government on its message.

The association has pointed to the many Americans who don’t have access to the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum speed goal of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload as a reason for the experienced workforce to be involved in the builds.

Experts have noted that there may be a shortage of trained worker to supply the rest of the country with fiber – and this could be exacerbated when it comes to the next-generation 5G networks.

“When providers have taken federal funds for deployment, they’ve repeatedly failed to deliver on promises to union workers and customers, often outsourcing the construction work to low-wage contractors who cut corners and risk safety and quality,” the release said.

The pointed out to widespread union job cuts since 2017, including 3,400 at Verizon, 4000 at Lumen Technologies, and 33,000 AT&T.

Some of the labor provisions asked for by the CWA are included in legislation introduced by members of Congress. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, a bill that pledged $80 billion for broadband infrastructure and reintroduced by Rep. James Clyburn, D-South Carolina, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, require bargaining and binding arbitration.

Reporter Mike Ogunji is from Columbus, Ohio, and studied public relations and information technology at the University of Cincinnati. He has been involved in the Model United Nations and We The People. Mike enjoys books, basketball, broadband and exploring the backwoods.

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Treasury Feels Obligated to Inform Federal Agencies about Capital Projects Fund Projects Locations

Department of Treasury is working to provide guidance for providers on how to grow their business.

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Photo of the Treasury Department building in Washington.

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2023 – The Treasury Department is focusing on keeping afloat other federal agencies about completed broadband builds using its Capital Projects Fund to ensure federal money is not wasted, according to the program’s director on Wednesday.

Joseph Wender said on a Fiber for Breakfast web event that the department requires recipients of money from the fund to provide the coordinates of “every location that’s been served.

“Because we do feel an obligation to our federal partners, particularly the [Federal Communications Commission] and the [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] to ensure that our federally funded locations are fit into the larger map,” Wender added.

“We need to have a global awareness of where all of our funds are,” he added. “That is a reporting requirement that we take very seriously.”

The FCC released its first version of the broadband map in November and subsequently opened up a second round of data collection on January 3.

Since then there have been challenges sent to the agency on the accuracy of the map, including where areas are reported to have builds but don’t.

The map will be used by the NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program to deliver $42.5 billion to the states by June 30.

Industry associations and experts have requested that the FCC map add more information, including up-to-date information on where other federal and state funds are being allocated.

In January, experts agreed at an event that the federal funds should be better tracked in order to maximize its benefits.

“Money goes out from the government in broadband stimulus, but we don’t track where it’s going very well,” said Sarah Oh Lam, senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, a federal funded research and development center. “We really don’t know outcomes…and I don’t see many efforts in mandating that we collect data from this [stimulus] round from the grantees that receive money.

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‘Buy America’ Waivers Possible, But Very Difficult to Obtain, Says NTIA Chief

The bar ‘is not impossibly high, but it is high,’ Alan Davidson said.

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Photo of Alan Davidson on Wednesday by Drew Clark

WASHINGTON, March 16, 2023 – The bipartisan infrastructure law is a broadband connectivity program as well as “an opportunity for us to be promoting U.S. jobs and promoting manufacturing capability,” said the head of the federal agency charged with implementation.

Although “there will be instances” where “Buy America” rules will be waived, “we will be looking very carefully for where” such waivers are allowed, said Alan Davidson, head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Speaking at a Verizon-hosted event here on Wednesday, Davidson cited President Biden’s inclusion of reference to the Buy America regulations in the State of the Union Address on February 7, a marquee forum signaling the importance of the rules to the administration.

“The bar has been set high: Not impossibly high, but it is high,” Davidson said.

Read the Broadband Breakfast special report: What to Know About Build America, Buy America Provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The report is available for Breakfast Club members.

In a statement by NTIA on February 9, two days after the State of the Union, the agency said that broadband projects funded from its $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program will “have time” to get “made in America” products

There is widespread concern, raised during in a Broadband Breakfast event on February 8 and in other forums, that the electronic components in fiber-optic equipment are simply not available from American-made manufacturers. The fiber cables themselves, by contrast, are increasingly being manufactured in America.

President Biden, Davidson continued, “fully expects that we will source all of our materials and all of our work in the U.S. Fiber-optic cables are a good example of this.” He cited fiber manufacturer Corning as an example of announcing a new manufacturing facility in Arizona.

“We are hoping and expecting other announcements like that in the near future,” he said.

‘A startup in government’

In a conversation with Kathleen Grillo, Verizon’s senior vice president of public policy, Davidson said that $1.7 billion had already been awarded to state broadband offices, who are working to prepare broadband plans as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s $42.5 billion BEAD program.

He highlighted the significance of the June 30, 2023, deadline by which the agency will announce funding awards to states.

“Some states are very sophisticated; others are just standing up their broadband offices now,” he said.

Asked to define the missions and values that NTIA is bringing to its broadband implementation, Davidson cited excellence, integrity and kindness.

The program, he said, “is like a startup in government.”

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Moneyless ACP Could Mean Small Providers Not Building Out in Remote Areas: Treasury Official

The Affordable Connectivity Program running out of money could potentially put smaller providers in a difficult spot.

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Photo of Joseph Wender, director of the Capital Projects Fund

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2023 – The director of the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund said an Affordable Connectivity Program that runs out of money means smaller internet service providers lose a revenue source that could put toward building out networks in rural and remote communities.

Joseph Wender, director of the broadband infrastructure fund, said at an America’s Communications Association Connects event last week that the $14.2 billion fund provides subscribers to ISPs with an opportunity to subscribe with a $30 per month discount and $75 per month discount on tribal lands.

That extra revenue, which may otherwise not be obtained without the discounts provided by the ACP, could be used to build networks in areas that are financially difficult to do so, Wender said.

“Obviously the first concern is that low-income families will lose their connections,” said Wender. “The subsequent results is that it will dry up a revenue stream that you are counting on as you’re going to these areas that you previously thought were not profitable.”

While there have been calls for Congress to extend the ACP, the Federal Communications Commission, which administers the program, has had a bit of an issue getting the money out. That’s because many millions of eligible Americans are not subscribing. The result of that is the commission has launched four outreach programs to help get the word out.

Last week, vice president Kamala Harris announced that more than 16 million households are now saving $500 million per month on broadband from the program.

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