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New Broadband Workers Can Be Enticed By High Wages, Career Advancement: Experts

‘There are just an incredible amount of even management positions that would be well-suited to develop through an apprentice program.’

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WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 – An emphasis on long-term opportunities for career advancement and wage growth is key to building a sustainable broadband workforce, said panelists at Wednesday’s Broadband Breakfast Live Online event.

“What we’re focused on in Ohio is building out career pathways so that individuals can understand what the different paths there are for them to move up in the industry,” said Eric Leach, deputy director of Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation. “It’s really about creating a career ladder,” he added.

Last year, Ohio announced partnerships with colleges and career centers to build the broadband workforce. The state also awarded a $3 million grant to The Ohio State University to develop a state-wide curriculum for budding broadband and 5G workers.

Although the entry-level wage for many broadband industry workers isn’t comparatively high, workers can quickly advance – all the way to small-business ownership, said Kelley Dunne, president and CEO of AmeriCrew, a workforce training company for veterans.

AmeriCrew trains its technicians to be versatile, Dunne explained, giving them latitude to move from broadband to other fields, such as electric vehicles or clean energy.

“We’ve avoided calling them anything other than a ‘national infrastructure technician’ to give them that flexibility to evolve their career,” Dunne added.

“There are just an incredible amount of even management positions that would be well-suited to develop through an apprentice program,” said Deb Bennett, director of apprenticeship for the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program at the Wireless Infrastructure Association.

Last week, the WIA announced a partnership with the Fiber Broadband Association to mutually promote the two organizations’ workforce development programs, TIRAP and the Optical Telecom Installer Certification, respectively.

Deborah Kish, vice president of research and workforce development at the FBA, estimated that the fiber industry will need 205,000 new workers by 2026.

Why the industry needs workers

The broadband industry is awash in federal funds. The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 allocated $65 billion for investments in broadband, the largest chunk – $42.5 billion – going to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. The federal government’s other broadband-related funding programs include the Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program, the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, and the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund.

The NTIA requires states receiving BEAD funds to “develop a highly skilled workforce and ensure that subgrantees do the same.”

Setting aside funding is just one step in universalizing internet connectivity, however. To make the most of public dollars, network deployment and adoption projects require good maps, coordination between state officials and local communities, and a skilled workforce, according to experts.

The White House promotes workforce development

In June, the White House announced the “Talent Pipeline Challenge,” which encouraged employers to partner with training providers. President Joe Biden on Wednesday lauded industry responses to the challenge, including the WIA–FBA partnership and a more-than-$80-billion workforce investment from Lumen Technologies.

NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association announced Wednesday a series of workforce-development partnerships with Wisconsin’s Northwood Technical College, the National Rural Education Association, and the Communications Workers of America in response to the White House’s challenge.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022, 12 Noon ET – Workforce Development Measures

For months, industry experts have been warning that future labor shortages will risk states’ ability to maintain adequate internet coverage unless they take action to sustain and expand the dwindling broadband workforce. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes crucial funding for telecom workforce training, and the Labor Department is investing in innovative virtual reality training tools. Some states are implementing new broadband curriculums and developing apprenticeship programs in hopes of not only growing the workforce but also ensuring that workers have the necessary training and experience to support the future of broadband. But will these measures be enough to fend off the labor shortage looming over the broadband industry?

Panelists

  • Patrick Halley (keynote address), President & CEO, The Wireless Infrastructure Association
  • Debbie Kish, Vice President of Research & Workforce Development, Fiber Broadband Association
  • Deb Bennett, Director of Apprenticeship, Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) at the Wireless Infrastructure Association
  • Eric Leach, Deputy Director, Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation
  • Shane Matthews, Director of Training and Development, ElectriCom LLC
  • Kelley Dunne, President & CEO, AmeriCrew
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Patrick Halley (keynote address) is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA). WIA represents over 140 companies that develop, build, own and operate the nation’s wireless infrastructure and is the leading authority on all things wireless.

Debbie Kish is a former Gartner analyst, where she spent more than 21 years advising telecom carriers, technology suppliers and investors on emerging technologies, applications, target markets, competitive landscapes and business models. At the Fiber Broadband Association, she directs marketing strategy and leads the development of research and survey programs. Kish also drives the creation of education, training and certification programs to advance the FBA’s workforce development efforts.

Training tomorrow’s leaders in the infrastructure workforce is Deb Bennett’s specific challenge and inspiration. In her current role with WIA, she not only serves as the Director of Apprenticeship for TIRAP (Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program), she also consults on education/workforce development issues, and advises WWLF (Women’s Wireless Leadership Forum).

Eric Leach joined the Ohio Governor’s Office of Workforce Transformation in February of 2021 and currently serves as the Deputy Director. The Office of Workforce Transformation’s mission is to connect Ohio’s business, training, and education communities to build a dynamically skilled, productive, and purposeful workforce.

Shane Matthews is the Director of Training and Development at ElectriCom LLC. He brings with him a background in education and experience in both construction and lean manufacturing. At ElectriCom, he oversees the ongoing training of their current workforce, their NEO program, their apprenticeship programs, and the professional development of their leadership.

Kelley Dunne is currently CEO and President of AmeriCrew. He also currently serves as the Chairman of Warriors4Wireless, a national non-profit that he co-founded that helps recruit, train and place transitioning veterans for the Wireless Industry. Prior to Americrew, Kelley was CEO of Novation Enterprise and the CEO of One Economy, a global non-profit that provides technology to under-served communities, and has more than 30+ years of experience in the telecommunications industry and is recognized as an industry pioneer in deploying some of the first 4G broadband wireless capacities across the country.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC, the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of the State Broadband Initiative in Illinois. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way.

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Broadband Mapping & Data

FCC Added Just Over 1 Million Locations in Broadband Map Fabric Slated For Spring Release: Chairwoman

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said the second version of map fabric ‘largely completed.’

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WASHINGTON, March 23, 2023 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that the commission added just over one million new broadband serviceable locations after processing challenges and improving data models in its second round of data collection that ended March 1.

In a mapping update blog post, chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel noted that the net additions to the map – where fixed broadband could be installed – came after it added 2.96 million new locations and removed 1.92 million locations from the first version of the fabric released in November.

The chairwoman also said the second version of the fabric, which underpins the broadband map, is “largely completed” and is slated for a release later this spring. The map will be used by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to spread among the states by June 30 the $42.5 billion from its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program.

“In the past four months, our mapping team has processed challenges to availability data for over 4 million locations,” Rosenworcel said in the post. “In other words, on average, we are addressing availability challenges to tens of thousands of locations every single day. Every two weeks, our public map is updated to reflect all availability challenges that have been resolved. In other words, the system is working.”

The chairwoman noted that the one-million-location difference suggests that the net adjustment from the last version of less than one percent in the number of serviceable locations “says that, on balance, the November pre-production draft of the National Broadband Map painted a helpful picture of where high-speed Internet service could be available.”

Previously, the chairwoman said challenges that sought corrections to the data corresponded to less than one percent of the total number of locations identified.

Rosenworcel also noted Thursday that important corrections and additions to the data were made, including “data refreshes to more sophisticated tools” that helped remove structures like garages and sheds. The most significant additions were in Alaska, U.S. territories and tribal lands, she said.

The challenge process led to nearly 122,000 new location additions, she noted, but also added that the majority of location adds were due to the updates and dataset model refinements by the agency’s contractor CostQuest.

“While over time we expect future versions of the Fabric to require fewer refinements,” Rosenworcel added, “these ongoing efforts to improve the Fabric outside of the challenge process will continue and will remain an important tool for the improvement of the National Broadband Map.”

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Spectrum

Industry Dissent on Whether Spectrum Sharing is Sustainable

Experts disagree on the capabilities of spectrum sharing, particularly the CBRM model.

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Photo of Colleen King of Charter Communications, John Hunter of T-Mobile, and Matthew Hussey of Ericsson (left to right)

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2023 – Industry leaders disagreed on the capabilities of spectrum sharing and its future in the United States at a Federal Communications Bar Association event Wednesday. 

Dynamic spectrum sharing – a technology that allows for 4G, LTE, and 5G wireless to be used in the same frequency bands – is essential to a successful national spectrum strategy, said Jennifer McCarthy of Federated Wireless.  

Establishing a combination of access points for one frequency band can open its availability for all prospective users, she continued, touting the success of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service established by the Federal Communications Commission in 2012. 

CBRS is the spectrum in the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz band which is shared through a three-tiered framework. Access to the spectrum is managed by a dynamic spectrum access system where incumbent users have protected access, priority access users enter through competitive auction, and general authorized access is given to a broad pool of users when not in use by others.  

Representative of T-Mobile, John Hunter, disagreed, claiming that dynamic spectrum sharing means there is less power available for technologies, particularly on higher frequencies that don’t propagate very far despite power disparities. As such, deploying the CBRS framework at scale across the country is not cost-feasible, he said. 

We should not conclude to share just for the sake of sharing, he said, particularly because it will decrease utility of the band so much that it will decline quality of networks down the line. “In many cases, sharing just outright won’t work,” said Hunter.  

Colleen King, vice president of regulatory affairs at Charter Communications, pushed against the argument that dynamic sharing’s lower power will stop providers from providing great service, claiming that it instead allows for more carriers to provide great service. In fact, the CBRS auction had 228 winning bids, 10 times the amount of other spectrum auctions, she said. 

The FCC’s Communications Marketplace Report showed that in one market where Verizon is using the CBRS framework, the company is providing “much faster speeds” than its other markets, King cited. Charter will use the CBRS system for its spectrum uses, she said. 

Panelists nevertheless agreed on the importance of maintaining US leadership in the spectrum space by developing a national spectrum strategy to address sharing issues. 

The panel followed considerable debate over spectrum allocation, sharing, and expansion. Earlier this week, industry leaders suggested that the allocation process be updated in preparation for future disputes. Additionally, debate continues over whether 5G operations can be shared on the 12 GHz spectrum with satellite service providers.  

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Broadband Mapping & Data

Association Says FCC Not Budging on Identifying Anchor Institutions on Broadband Map

SHLB said FCC officials recommended a workaround that risked penalties.

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Photo of John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB

WASHINGTON, March 22, 2023 – An association representing anchor institutions said in a letter Wednesday that officials from the Federal Communications Commission conveyed that they will not be changing the methodology that excludes schools and libraries from the broadband map and instead recommended a “work around” that the group said could risk penalties.

The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition has repeatedly told the FCC that its broadband map incorrectly leaves out anchor institutions because they are categorized as non-broadband serviceable locations by virtue of the fact that they are treated as businesses that purchase commercial service rather than subscribers to “mass-market broadband internet access service,” which is what the FCC maps. SHLB has said this means institutions may not be able to get enhanced connectivity.

While SHLB has said that many small and rural libraries and other institutions subscribe to mass market service, it said in meeting notes from a Monday rendezvous with officials that the commission is “locked into” their current methodology and even recommended a “work-around” that the association said risked penalties.

According to SHLB, officials said the institutions could challenge their status on the map by representing that “they are not anchor institutions in order to change their designation.

“This recommendation is not feasible,” SHLB said. “Anchor institutions are not about to risk penalties by mis-representing themselves in such a way.”

The map, which has been extensively challenged by local governments and is updated every six months, is relied on to provide the most accurate picture of connectivity in the country and to assist federal agencies in divvying out public money. In fact, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will use the map to determine how much each state will get from tis $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program by June 30.

SHLB said it commissioned a study that found the “vast majority” of 200 libraries on the FCC map were “grayed out” as not broadband serviceable locations.

“If states base their funding decisions on the Map, they will not be able to provide funding to ensure that anchor institutions receive gigabit level service as called for” in the BEAD program, SHLB said in the letter.

The association also said that information presented to it by the FCC during the meeting suggests the map “significantly overstates the areas that are served.”

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