Congress Looks to Strengthen Telecom Workforce, Address Rural Broadband Disparities

A bipartisan group of senators from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has reintroduced the Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act, a bill to address the shortage of trained telecom workers.

The legislation, sponsored by Jerry Moran, R-Kan., John Thune, R-S.D., Jon Tester, D-Mont., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., will also help address the ongoing rural broadband divide.

“As our country continues to work towards providing high-speed broadband connectivity to all parts of the country, including the deployment of 5G mobile broadband, there is a growing demand for a skilled workforce that would support this effort,” said Sen. Moran. “This legislation takes another step to help bridge the digital divide in rural areas like those in Kansas, but would also work to increase the number of well-paying jobs in the economy, supporting our rural workforce in the wake of this pandemic.”

The bill would address the telecom workforce shortage through three key steps:

  • “Establishing a Federal Communications Commission (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.
  • 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.
  • 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.”

“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 Sen. 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.”

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr weighed in on the bill, praising not only its impact on jobs but its ability to meet the needs of rural Americans.

“To complete America’s 5G build, we need nearly to double the number of skilled tower techs and telecom crews working in this country,” Carr said. “Doing so would not only advance U.S. leadership in 5G and create thousands of new jobs, it would help ensure that we have the workforce in place to extend the reach of high-speed Internet services at a time when so many Americans are relying on the Internet to work from home and utilize services such as telehealth and remote learning.”

The bill has also been lauded by telecom industry groups.

“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.”

Kate Polit
About Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs