Tester Rolls Out Bipartisan Bill to Address Telecommunications Workforce Shortages Holding Up Broadband Expansion in Montana
Senator’s legislation will help fill next-generation jobs and bolster Montana’s economy by training workers from rural and frontier communities
U.S. Senator Jon Tester today led a bipartisan group of Senators in reintroducing his Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, which will work to address the shortage of trained workers that are necessary to fill next-generation jobs in the telecommunications industry in communities throughout the country-particularly those in rural and frontier communities.
“This bipartisan legislation helps get folks in rural and frontier communities the skills they need to get good-paying jobs close to home while helping rural states like Montana keep up in today’s economy,” said Tester. “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.”
The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, which is also sponsored by U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), would address the shortage of trained workers necessary to fill telecommunications jobs by:
- Establishing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)-led interagency working group that, in consultation with the Department of Labor (DOL) and other federal and non-federal stakeholders, including representatives from rural and Tribal organizations, would be tasked with developing recommendations to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry.
- Requiring the FCC, in consultation with the 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.
- 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 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.
Tester’s Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act has strong support from telecommunications organizations across the country:
“NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association strongly supports the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act that was introduced today in the United States Senate by Senators Thune, Tester, Wicker, Moran and Peters. Workforce development remains a top priority for the Association’s member companies and it is great to see this bi-partisan group of U.S. Senators come out of the gate strong in the 117th Congress through the introduction of this legislation,” said Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of 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.”
“With connectivity in demand more now than ever, the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act helps at the right time. The bill places needed focus on developing the wireless workforce the U.S. needs to win the race to 5G. It emphasizes the right solution with apprenticeship, given the success of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of WIA. “Building a trained wireless workforce will enable the U.S. to reap the benefits from 5G, including the creation of three million jobs and an economic growth impact of $500 billion annually to the economy. We thank Sen. Thune for his leadership and Sens. Tester, Wicker, Moran, and Peters for their support.”
“Americans need jobs – and broadband connectivity. As we continue to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, what better way to tackle both than to support jobs in the telecommunications industry?” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association. “Broadband infrastructure needs a skilled workforce, and at the current rate of deployment, the telecommunications industry is expected to see hundreds of thousands of new jobs in the next five years. NTCA thanks Senators Thune, Tester, Moran, Peters and Wicker for reintroducing the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act.”
“CTIA commends the work of Senators Thune, Tester, Moran, Peters and Wicker to grow and enable the skilled workforce needed to deploy next-generation networks, which will help the U.S. realize the promise of the 5G Economy,” said Kelly Cole, senior vice president, government affairs of CTIA.
As a working farmer in an area with limited cell service, Tester has led the charge to bring reliable wireless service to rural America. Last week, he secured a commitment from Gina Raimondo-President Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Commerce-to help bolster broadband in rural areas, and he secured $65 million to implement his bipartisan Broadband DATA Act, which updates federal broadband funding distribution maps to ensure accurate and efficient allocation of resources. He also recently announced a $125 million investment that will help expand high speed internet access in rural Montana, and he secured an additional $10.8 million for rural broadband expansion through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program.