U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, will convene a hearing titled, “The 5G Workforce and Obstacles to Broadband Deployment,” at 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 22, 2020. This hearing will examine the skills and training needed among the telecommunications workforce to deploy 5G networks, as well as ongoing efforts within the public and private sectors to address the 5G labor shortage. Witnesses will also discuss regulatory barriers that may impede U.S. leadership in next generation communications technology and efforts to close the digital divide.
- The Honorable Brendan Carr, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
- Ms. Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association
- Mr. Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge
- Mr. Jimmy Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer, MillerCo, Inc.; Chairman, National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE)
- Ms. Lisa Youngers, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fiber Broadband Association
*Witness list subject to change
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
This hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office Building 216. Witness testimony, opening statements, and a live video of the hearing will be available on www.commerce.senate.gov.
*Note: Witness list updated 1/21/22
Chairman Roger Wicker
5G is the fifth generation of wireless communications technology – as every member of the committee knows and as many more Americans are learning. Developing and deploying national 5G networks is critical for the future of the United States. 5G promises to create 3 million new jobs, generate $275 billion in new investment, and will spur up to $500 billion in economic growth. With exponentially faster connections, higher speeds, and significantly larger data capacities, 5G networks are expected to transform almost every industry and economic sector.
Last week, this committee heard from Administration officials who discussed ongoing advancements in artificial intelligence, quantum computing, advanced manufacturing, and other cutting-edge
innovations. Realizing the full economic and social potential of these technologies will depend in large part on the capabilities of the nation’s communications infrastructure.
As our country moves quickly toward a full-scale deployment of 5G, increasing commercial access to mid-band spectrum, and removing barriers to infrastructure investment will be essential to winning the global race in this technology.
To date, the Federal Communications Commission has taken meaningful steps to remove regulatory barriers to broadband infrastructure investment. For example, the Commission’s efforts to streamline the permitting process for small cell deployment and speed up pole attachment processes will help accelerate 5G build-out and close the digital divide.
Workforce readiness is a critical component to U.S. 5G leadership. The equipment installation for 5G will constitute a fundamental shift in network deployment from existing 4G networks. With the deployment of 4G, the wireless industry has been engaged in building and maintaining large cell towers to provide several miles of broadband coverage to certain geographic areas. On the other hand, 5G networks will require the installation of small radio equipment and antennas in such density and scale as to require a substantial increase in labor. Maintenance of this equipment and new technical standards for the implementation of 5G will add even more to the workforce demand.
According to reports, the United States faces a 5G labor shortage. Estimates suggest there are approximately 27,000 tower climbers prepared to install 5G equipment. However, it is projected that 20,000 more tower climbers are needed to accelerate the deployment of 5G in order to win the race and secure the first-mover advantage in the United States. Additional labor will also be needed to lay fiber to support wireless connections, install radios, and deploy other essential equipment.
To address 5G workforce needs, the Department of Labor is engaged in a joint effort with the telecommunications industry and other government agencies to provide training and improve technical skills among the telecommunications workforce. The Department of Labor’s Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship program, in conjunction with the Wireless Infrastructure Association, is a good example of efforts targeted at addressing this skills gap.
This committee is keenly interested in learning what additional measures federal, state, and local governments can take to train workers and ensure they have the specialized skills to meet 5G deployment demand.
I hope witnesses will discuss initiatives within the private sector to improve 5G workforce readiness, including efforts to provide on-the-job training to the current workforce; the development of partnerships with local educational institutions to create a pipeline for skilled labor; and discuss how meaningful career opportunities can be created for Americans in this important field.
Let me again thank our witnesses for joining us today.
I now recognize my good friend and the Ranking Member, Senator Cantwell.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell
CANTWELL: Mr. Chairman. Can I just say, thank you, thank you, thank you for this hearing this morning. Mr. Chairman, in seriousness. Every country recognizes 5G and the form and foundation of the next generation of innovation. These networks will carry great benefits and economic returns to communities. That is why major nations, including the U.S., are making investments in network infrastructure and developing a 5G workforce. Having that workforce is of particular importance, not because we need to just construct networks, because we also need to understand the design and manage and especially, especially the security of these networks. I’m very proud in my own state of Washington, The University of Washington, establishes cohorts on cybersecurity to encourage students who are already studying like fields to move over and study cybersecurity in a collaboration with industry who are helping to fund those educational opportunities. We need to do more of that.
Efforts are ongoing throughout the country to help also craft apprenticeships and training programs to fill these needs. The idea that there will be a single nation that wins the 5G race is false. But we need to keep moving forward and be very clear as it relates to 5G in the fact that no government back door should exist on any solutions deployed in a broadband network. We need to respect the rule of law and the fact that these are separate entities. The debate of over who is winning this supposed race also is something to be discussed, but we also have to make sure that we are continuing to move forward on a reasonable approach to 5G. We should not hand the wireless industry all of the policies at once just to speed it up.
I do have concerns that the Trump FCC has brought into the race a narrative and is trying to use that to not address important public policy questions. In 2018, the FCC took one vote after another to undercut local community authority to govern their own communities. The commission voted to allow the wireless carriers to bypass crucial reviews that ensure infrastructure projects, respect the value of our communities place, historic preservation, and the environment. The FCC also chose to undercut tribal nations’ and localities’ responsibilities to reasonably review hundreds of siting applications associated with 5G. I don’t think that’s the right way to move forward.
As Commissioner Rosenworcel testified last week, we have time to work on these issues in a thoughtful manner. We need to take that time and make sure that we’re getting these issues right so we can get deployment. Things that are held up in a legal battle is not deployment. And that is why we have to get the right answers. Our efforts on 5G should create a cooperative opportunity. Local communities want the benefits of these networks for their residents, but they also want to make sure that they are reasonably deployed. This can be a cooperative process.
In my state, Spokane worked with Verizon to develop collaborative policies for a 5G test bed for the city, and the city of Bellevue developed a 5G Innovation Partnership zone that brings together technology, business, academia, and the public sector on 5G network deployment in their community. So continuing to work together in a collaborative process is the smart policy and I think a reflection of where we need to be.
There are a lot of things about 5G that we need to work through in a comprehensible, reasonable fashion in long term proposals that will help us speed up the deployment of 5G spectrum, and so I look forward to continuing to work with our colleagues on that. I know we can come to solutions that answer all the questions that we have proposed throughout these committee hearings, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to achieve that. And thank you, Mr. Chairman, really, actually. Thank you for having the hearing.
Witness Panel 1
The Honorable Brandan CarrCommissionerFederal Communications Commission
Ms. Shirley BloomfieldChief Executive OfficerNTCA-The Rural Broadband Association
Mr. Harold FeldSenior Vice PresidentPublic Knowledge
Mr. Jimmy MillerPresident and Chief Executive OfficerMillerCo, Inc
Ms. Lisa YoungersPresident and Chief Executive OfficerFiber Broadband Association