Bipartisan Tester Bill to Bolster Rural Broadband Workforce Advances

Legislation would increase training to fill good-paying, next-gen jobs in telecommunications

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today applauded this week’s passage of his bipartisan Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act through the Senate Commerce Committee, vowing to continue working across the aisle until the legislation is signed into law by the President.

Tester’s legislation 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.

“My bipartisan legislation will not only help folks in rural and frontier communities obtain the skills they need to get good-paying jobs close to home but will also help expand rural broadband at a moment when it’s never been more important to ensuring frontier communities can succeed in a 21st century economy,” said Tester. “Getting this legislation through Committee is a strong first step, but I’m not going to stop pushing until this bill lands on the President’s desk and is signed into law.”

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.

“This is a positive development toward maintaining our shared communications networks and ensuring we all stay connected,” said Jonathan Spalter, USTelecom President and CEO. “As 5G and transformative next generation technologies continue to emerge, Senators Thune, Tester, Peters, Wicker and Moran have come up with a strategic plan to bring policymakers and innovators together to identify, train and employ the high skilled 5G and broadband workforce that will strengthen America’s connected leadership now and in the years ahead. We urge the full Senate to consider and advance this legislation.”

Tester’s legislation will 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.

As a working farmer in an area with limited cell service, Tester has led the charge to bring reliable wireless service to rural America. He secured a commitment from Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo 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.