Whew, it’s been quite a week out here in Washington DC. In spite of what the headlines look like, there are a number of activities still underway that are constructive in a news cycle that looks to be all political.
NTCA was delighted to receive the phone call from the Senate Commerce Committee to join the discussion earlier this week on 5G and the workforce needed in the communications space. We may have only had 24 hours to prepare but our team is pretty amazing and made sure that I had all of the materials I needed to share some key points with the Senate leaders.
- Ongoing support from the High-Cost Universal Service Fund is critical to making a business case for rural broadband
- The High-Cost program supports the fixed rural broadband networks that play an essential role in the provision of mobile wireless service because wireless needs wires and 5G will be a fiber-fed product.
- Well designed federal permitting processes will help ease broadband deployment delays.
- Dealing with railroad right-of-way issues will go a long way towards limiting costs and speeding up the process.
- Pole attachment access rules have been updated but there is still a barrier in terms of properly trained staff qualified or available to do the OTMR work.
- Workforce development is key and since the networks of the future will be hybrid, trained personnel will be needed for both fiber and wireless – 5G is an access technology that builds upon fiber backbones.
- Many NTCA members are already partnering with local schools and technical colleges to train homegrown talent for the innovative careers that didn’t exist a quarter-century ago.
- Partnerships can be encouraged on the state, local or regional level to develop apprenticeship programs, we need Department of Labor to focus on telecom specific programs and we need continued support for benefit plans like those offered by NTCA that allow us to aggregate rural broadband employees so that our members can offer competitive benefit plans to at least help recruit and retain talent in rural communities.
Following this opportunity, we had the RUS team come over to the office to lead a webcast for NTCA members on the next steps for the ReConnect program. A wealth of information was shared in terms of what to expect in the next round of funding which will be $555 million in grants, loan/grants and loan programs. The window will open at the end of this month and workshops will be taking place across the country in advance to further educate potential applicants – hoping NTCA members will take advantage of some of these opportunities.