As Workforce Shortages Threaten Rural Broadband Progress, Tester Demands FCC Find Ways to Recruit Personnel

Senator: “If you train kids from rural America, they might actually come back to work there.”

Following reports that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the skilled workforce necessary to build 5G broadband infrastructure across the country, U.S. Senator Jon Tester grilled Commissioner Brenden Carr on the agency’s plan to address shortages and ensure that rural America doesn’t get the short end of the stick as the new technology rolls out.

The FCC estimates that it will need to fill another 20,000 tower climber job openings to complete its 5G building project, nearly doubling the size of its current workforce. In fact, the first few years of 5G broadband deployment projects will create a projected 50,000 new construction jobs each year. At yesterday’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, Tester pressed Carr on the agency’s past failures to bring rural America up to speed with mobile wireless technology, suggesting that workforce shortages would likely impact rural development more than urban.

“With 5G, I’ve been pushing you and others on the FCC to have demo projects in rural America, because I think that rural America will be left out of the cold on this one just as we have been on prior technologies,” said Tester. “What can we do as this workforce develops to ensure that we can get folks to work in rural America?”

Tester has been critical of the FCC’s strategies to bring reliable broadband coverage to rural America. In last week’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing, he grilled FCC officials on their previous failure to bring 4G technology to rural communities and demanded a solution for workforce shortages that threaten the agency’s new 5G promises to rural America.

As a working farmer in an area with spotty cell service, Tester has led the charge for bringing reliable wireless service to rural America. Earlier this month, he sent a bipartisan letter to the FCC demanding they focus their efforts on providing reliable broadband to rural communities. He also backed the bipartisan Broadband DATA Act last year to force broadband providers to fix inaccurate coverage maps and help individuals and other entities challenge coverage maps in a non-burdensome way.