Lack of Adequate Workforce Expected to Hamper Broadband Industry, Says Panel : Broadband Breakfast

2022-10-09 14:56:48 By : Ms. Cindy Kong

‘Everyone says, ‘Oh, there’s going to be a workforce shortage,’ but no one is really focusing on it.’

LAS VEGAS, October 4, 2022 – The American broadband industry is likely to soon face an acute workforce shortage, said a panel Monday at the WISPAPALOOZA conference.

As the federal government rolls out unprecedented broadband monetary investments from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program and other sources, some experts warn that the industry is glossing over the absence of another crucial resource: labor.

“Everyone says, ‘Oh, there’s going to be a workforce shortage,’ but no one is really focusing on it,” said Elizabeth Bowles, CEO of internet service provider Aristotle Unified Communications.

What’s more, many workers in the nation’s broadband workforce will be very inexperienced, said Matt Larsen, CEO of internet service provider Vistabeam.

The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the big infrastructure funding package, includes money for workforce training. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo has previously emphasized the need for workforce training funds for broadband infrastructure.

Some governments are working to expand the broadband workforce as well. In March, Ohio State University announced a new curriculum on broadband technologies. That same month, the federal Telecommunications Workforce Interagency Group held its first webcast, where apprenticeship programs were discussed as crucial for the future of broadband expansion.

Larsen told Broadband Breakfast, however, that union-friendly hiring restrictions are likely to cause further workforce-driven delays. Regulators and industry players must balance “the worker’s well-being and ability to earn with the company’s need for predictable and manageable goals,” he said.

Larsen predicted better workforce outcomes for areas in which companies “have the flexibility to hire the people that are best for the job.”

Vistabeam is “trying to build [its] own army,” Larsen told Broadband Breakfast. He said his company recruits hard-working young people who demonstrate an ability to learn: “We’re really looking for learn-it-alls as opposed to know-it-alls.”

In addition to offering competitive pay and good benefits, Larsen said Vistabeam attracts candidates by highlighting the fun side of working in the broadband industry and learning about technology. Employees go through a comprehensive and ongoing training process to ensure safety, he added.

At a Pew Charitable Trusts event last summer, Rachael Stephens, director of workforce development and economic policy for the National Governors Association, argued for collaboration between a host of partners, including the federal government, state governments, private industry, and educational institutions.

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TechFreedom argued that the FCC overstated the flaws of Starlink’s network.

WASHINGTON, October 3, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s decision to revoke Starlink’s $885 million award was “arbitrary” and “capricious,” said TechFreedom in comments filed with the Commission last week.

Starlink secured the award from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in December 2020, but the agency changed course and pulled the plug on the grant last August, claiming the company’s satellite technology is too new and unreliable to meet RDOF’s requirements. Starlink appealed the decision in September.

In its filed comments, TechFreedom, a think tank “dedicated to promoting the progress of technology that improves the human condition,” argued that the FCC overstated the flaws of Starlink’s network. Starlink’s growing constellation of satellites – already numbering in the thousands – is “revolutionary,” and network performance will rapidly improve as more satellites are launched, the comments said.

In response to FCC reservations about lagging upload speeds, the TechFreedom argued that Starlink will reach the required service speeds ­in the remaining three years before the Commission’s official deadline.

“How can the FCC pull all funding for Starlink based on current speed tests for a system that is not yet fully built, and for which deployment, speed, and latency milestones don’t apply for several more years,” the think tank wrote.

TechFreedom also argued that Starlink’s is the only technology able to reach some of the hardest-to-serve areas in America: “When the dust settles on this round of broadband deployment in a few years, and the new maps still show many Americans with no access to high-speed broadband, there will be no one to blame but this Commission.”

The revocation of Starlink’s grant was met with significant pushback from inside the Commission as well. In August, Commissioner Brandan Carr blasted the decision, saying, “The FCC’s decision offers no reasoned basis for determining that Starlink was incapable of meeting its regulatory obligations.”

Commissioner Nathan Simington outright endorsed Starlink’s challenge. “I am troubled that the decision to rescind SpaceX’s RDOF award applied standards that were not in our RDOF rules, were never approved by the Commission, and in fact made their first appearance in this drastic action,” he said.

‘The only way to get that density is to get fiber out there. That allows you to get more subs with your wireless.’

LAS VEGAS, October 6, 2022 – By employing more fiber points, wireless internet service providers can improve network performance and innovation, industry players at the WISPAPALOOZA conference told Broadband Breakfast.

Jay Anderson, chief technology officer of FiberLight, which has built fiber networks in several states, including Texas, Florida, and Virginia, told this publication as wireless internet service providers get more subscribers online, the existing connections to the fiber backbone can get congested without more densification of fiber points.

“The only way to get that density is to get fiber out there, and that allows you to get more subs with your wireless,” Anderson said.

Anderson said he expects WISPs to adopt a “hybrid architecture” moving forward. FiberLight’s Texan WISP partners have grown “leaps and bounds,” he said. “They’re using our infrastructure…to get that capacity out there…our job is to get as much of it out there, [at as high a] bandwidth as possible,” he added.

Mike Rowell, senior vice president of operations for Hilliary Communications, related some of his own professional experience with fiber to Broadband Breakfast. Hilliary provides internet, telephone, and television service across Texas and Oklahoma.

“We can see fiber helping us out tremendously in some areas getting us to a wireless access point,” Rowell said, explaining that a single fiber deployment can replace a less-reliable, multi-device connection to a hard-to-serve area. He said this strategy enabled his company to offer higher internet speeds and reach new customers. 

Rowell has worked in telecommunications for four decades. He said he has seen once-prohibitive costs for fiber-installation machinery plummet, which makes fiber a far more viable option than it previously was.

“Fiber – from just…two years ago – was totally different than today,” he said. “You can [now] have fiber splicers that can do a really, really nice job for under $3,000.”

Rowell also emphasized the importance of foresight and innovative business planning. “We never thought we’d be selling one-gig, and here we are selling it,” he said. “It’s going to be the same thing: We don’t think we’re going to be selling 10-gig, but we’re going to.”

Crowdsourced and bulk data are subject to a challenge process that has successfully eliminated crowdsourced data in the past.

On September 15, 2022, the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Data Task Force issued a public notice on “Specifications for Bulk Fixed Availability Challenge and Crowdsource Data.”

The notice provided guidance for filing bulk challenges, and bulk crowdsource data, to fixed broadband availability data that will be published later this year by the FCC as part of its new Broadband Data Collection. According to the notice, “individuals and entities, including consumers, state, local, and Tribal governmental entities, and service providers,” can submit challenges to the BDC fixed broadband availability data for single locations, as well as “bulk” challenges with respect to multiple locations.

Historically, Internet Service Providers have effectively used the FCC’s challenge process to disqualify the vast majority of disputes brought forward by states, counties, and other complainants regarding FCC’s broadband maps. And frankly, this will be the case again unless states take a new tack to validate their own data in such a way that will stand up to ISP challenges. Given the enormity of the federal broadband funds available to states this time around, the stakes could not be higher; that is, a single state could forgo hundreds of millions of dollars of federal broadband funds due to insufficient preparation to challenge-proof its data.

Here are two observations to start:  1) The ISPs are correct in challenging the data if the data is corrupted or incapable of being validated, and therefore should be disqualified. 2) the FCC and the ISPs must now be seen as embracing the new “crowdsourcing” challenge process since the Broadband Data Act of 2020 was very specific in requiring that the FCC’s new data gathering methodology include third-party crowdsourced data. That said, third-party “crowdsourced” and “bulk” data are subject to the same challenge process that has successfully eliminated individual and crowdsourced data in the past.

Alone, or in combination, the following three scenarios have succeeded year after year in ensuring that third-party data, crowdsourced or otherwise, has not made it past the challenge process and onto the FCC’s approved maps.

PAgCASA, the Precision Ag Connectivity & Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance, is a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to ensure broadband map accuracy, connectivity, and rural prosperity, and stands ready to help states get their full share of federal broadband funds and successfully defend against challenges.

PAgCASA’s on-premises, cybersecure, network monitoring methodology – which deploys the same network monitoring devices the major ISPs use, on wired/ethernet-connected customer modems, from a volunteer pool of an ISP’s premium service customers selected using standardized random sampling methods – will, in fact, address all the challenge issues above and generate data ready for potential litigation.

As noted in another recent article on Broadband Breakfast, states like Georgia and North Carolina are finding significantly fewer served locations based on their latest state broadband data compared to FCC’s most recent Form 477 data. We expect to see similar differences across the country as states and the FCC bring forward their latest respective data.

Consider this: a ten percent delta between the FCC and state maps translates into a staggering $4 billion based on an overall federal broadband infrastructure spend of $40 billion – needed funds that will not make their way to genuinely unserved or underserved communities across the country.

Our nation can and must do better.

Garland T. McCoy, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Precision Ag Connectivity and Accuracy Stakeholder Alliance, is a long-time non-profit veteran in the fields of technology and telecommunication policy having served as Founder and CEO of the Technology Education Institute & Technology Policy Institute.  Garland was recently an adjunct professor at Syracuse University’s iSchool, teaching information policy and decision making. He can be reached at 

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