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Bipartisan Broadband Buildout Workforce Bill Revived

A 5G graphic
(Image credit: Dong Wenjie via Getty Images)

Congress is trying to make sure there are enough people who can translate the country's 5G ambitions into the necessary infrastructure to handle the job.

To that end, the bipartisan Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act (TSWA) has been introduced in the Senate by Commerce Committee members Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).

Actually, the bill is being reintroduced in a new, Democratically controlled Congress, that is expected to spend new money on building out broadband infrastructure. It was introduced last February.

The bill is meant to address the shortage of workers to fill the 5G deployment jobs of the future.

“This legislation is a win-win when it comes to deploying 5G technology and rural broadband services to South Dakotans, while also ensuring skilled workers have the training necessary for good-paying jobs in the telecommunications industry,” said Sen. Thune, former chairman of the Commerce Committee.

By addressing our workforce shortage in the wireless and broadband industry, we’re improving connectivity at the same time we get folks trained for 21st century jobs," said Sen. Tester.

The bill would advance next-gen broadband buildout jobs by:

1. "Establishing an FCC-led interagency working group that, in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL) and other federal and non-federal stakeholders, would be tasked with developing recommendations to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry.

2. Requiring the FCC, in consultation with DOL, to issue guidance on how states can address the workforce shortage in the telecommunications industry by identifying all of the federal resources currently available to them that can be used for workforce development efforts.

 3. Directing the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study to determine the specific number of skilled telecommunications workers that will be required to build and maintain broadband infrastructure in rural areas and the 5G wireless infrastructure needed to support 5G wireless technology."

The bill gets a strong vote of approval from NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. "“NATE believes that the provisions outlined in the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act can serve as a springboard to fostering greater collaboration between the federal government, state workforce boards, higher education and industry to accomplish the ultimate goal of developing a future pipeline of skilled technicians that the country sorely needs to meet its ambitious broadband and 5G deployment objectives," said NATE President Todd Schlekeway.

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NATE points out that the bill's reintroduction follows a letter from a coalition of industry groups "urging support for broadband-related job skills development as part of any infrastructure legislation."

"We cannot bridge the digital divide, nor work to advance our safety, wellbeing and prosperity through broadband, without the skilled workforce needed to erect that broadband infrastructure and build those networks," said Christina Mason, VP of government affairs for WISPA, the wireless internet service providers association. "But, there’s a shortage of skilled workers, which is thwarting these national goals.... "In identifying the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, the breadth of its workforce challenge and the resources available to skill and then bring more workers into the field, the TSWA will help the U.S. to continue innovating and lead the global telecommunications revolution we see in such technology as 5G mobile and fixed services."

“I applaud Senator Thune and his colleagues for their leadership in taking on this workforce challenge and introducing legislation that would create thousands of good-paying jobs," said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who was the lead commissioner on facilitating 5G buildouts under former Chairman Ajit Pai.