Senators Introduce Bill to Address Telecommunications Workforce Shortage

IMPACT Act would improve minority participation and careers in broadband industry

March 25, 2021

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., today introduced the Improving Minority Participation and Careers in Telecommunications (IMPACT) Act. The legislation would create a grant program through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that would award $100 million in grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority-serving Institutions to develop job training programs to educate and train students to participate in the telecommunications workforce.

“There are thousands of vacant jobs that are needed to deploy broadband networks, but we do not have a trained workforce to fill them,” said Wicker. “HBCUs and TCUs can help fill these jobs by providing career-specific opportunities for students. The IMPACT Act would support these institutions in developing telecommunications-related career building programs that will help bridge the digital divide.”

“We’re expanding opportunities for students from tribal communities to succeed in the jobs of the future while helping bridge the digital divide across Arizona,” said Sinema.

“The best education is one that equips the next generation of workers with the skillset to face the challenges of tomorrow,” said Scott. “The Improving Minority Participation and Careers in Telecommunications (IMPACT) Act will harness the ingenuity of our nation’s HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs to develop a workforce ready to participate in and lead the telecommunications industry.”

The IMPACT Act would:

  • Create the “Telecommunications Workforce Training Grant Program,” which the NTIA would use to award $100 million in grants to HBCUs/TCUs/Minority-serving Institutions to develop telecommunications job-training programs that would educate and train students to participate in the telecommunications workforce;
  • Require schools to apply for grants in order to partner with industry (or an organization with experience providing workforce training to the telecommunications industry) to develop these programs, to ensure students have the skills they need for the workforce;
  • Allow schools to use the grants to hire and train faculty, design and develop the curriculum, pay for costs associated with instruction, fund internships and apprenticeships, and recruit and support students;
  • Require schools to include a plan to increase female participation in the program;
  • Require that NTIA award at least 30 percent of the grant funds to HBCUs, and another 30 percent to TCUs, to ensure equitable distribution of funds; and
  • Require reporting to ensure schools use funds as required, that they are training students appropriately, and that students are securing employment in the telecommunications industry.


Click here to read the bill.


Stakeholders’ statements of support for the IMPACT Act:


Todd Schlekeway, President and CEO, NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association

 “NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association commends Senators Roger Wicker, Kyrsten Sinema, and Tim Scott for introducing bipartisan legislation designed to help address the telecommunications industry’s workforce shortages by establishing a federal grant to promote the development of telecommunications education and job-training programs at minority institutions. The Association is particularly excited that this is a bipartisan proposal that appropriately recognizes the critical importance of promoting educational and employment opportunities in the telecommunications field, which is so essential to the nation’s economy, competitiveness, security, and vital communications capabilities. We also commend Senators Wicker and Sinema for emphasizing funding to minority institutions, many of which are located in areas that lack access to high-speed broadband.”

Jonathan Adelstein, President and CEO, Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA)

 “WIA applauds the introduction of the Improving Minority Participants and Careers in Telecommunications Act by Senators Wicker, Sinema, and Scott. This bill will provide opportunities for underrepresented Americans to learn skills that will lead to employment in the booming telecommunications industry. As we build the wireless workforce of the future, the IMPACT Act will help to ensure inclusivity and diversity, while also helping to meet demand for skilled telecommunications workers. WIA thanks Senators Wicker and Sinema for their leadership on this timely issue.”

Dr. Harry Williams, President and CEO, Thurgood Marshall College Fund

 “As Congress considers increasing investments in broadband infrastructure, it is critical that minority communities are given the opportunity to acquire the skills and training to participate in telecommunications jobs of the future. The IMPACT Act accomplishes this goal by strategically investing in HBCUs and encouraging private sector partnership with our critical institutions of higher education.  In order for our nation to reach its full potential in a globally competitive marketplace, we must invest in and cultivate talent from every segment of our diverse population.” 

Carrie Billy, President and CEO, American Indian Higher Education Consortium

 “The nation’s 37 Tribal Colleges and Universities, which are the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, commend Senators Wicker, Sinema, and Scott for their leadership in introducing this important and timely legislation. The Improving Minority Participation and Careers in Telecommunication Act could lead to hundreds or even thousands of well-paying jobs for Native people and help us bridge the digital divide in Indian Country. The programs the bill helps build will empower our people to be part of the solution - creating digital opportunities, growing rural economies, and strengthening individual and family incomes. We urge Congress to swiftly pass this much-needed legislation.”

Chip Pickering, CEO, INCOMPAS

 “Networks of the future create jobs of the future. The bipartisan IMPACT Act from Senators Roger Wicker, Krysten Sinema, and Tim Scott places workforce training at the center of the fight to close the digital divide by making career-building opportunities available to our Historic Black Colleges and Tribal Communities. Building a new, diverse telecommunications workforce is critical to deploying the internet to all communities and winning the race to 5G. We thank the Senators for their leadership, and look forward to working to pass and implement future deployment and workforce policy." 

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association

 “The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of broadband connectivity and bridging the digital divide. A diverse, skilled workforce will be crucial to build out and maintain networks, but we are already seeing shortages that might only be exacerbated as broadband deployment activities increase. NTCA therefore applauds Senators Wicker, Sinema, and Scott for introducing the IMPACT Act to address this need by awarding grants to HBCUs and TCUs for telecom workforce training. We hope this bill might help particularly in developing skilled workforces based in and committed to the rural communities that NTCA members serve.”

Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO, USTelecom

 “A highly skilled broadband workforce goes hand in hand with maintaining our communications infrastructure and ensuring we all stay connected. The essential nature of these frontline employees is just one lesson of the pandemic. As 5G and next generation technologies continue to roll out, Senators Wicker, Sinema, and Scott have proposed a forward-looking and bipartisan plan to help bridge the digital divide by directing critical federal dollars to HBCUs, TCUs and minority-serving institutions that will identify, train and employ the world’s best 5G and broadband workforce. This is the way to strengthen America’s connected leadership now and in the years ahead." 

Kelly Cole, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, CTIA–The Wireless Association

 “We commend Senators Roger Wicker, Kyrsten Sinema and Tim Scott for their bipartisan leadership in introducing the IMPACT Act, which would establish telecommunications job-training programs for students at HBCUs and Tribal Colleges and Universities, funded through NTIA grants. The swift deployment of 5G networks is critical to our economic recovery and closing the digital divide, and the wireless industry needs a robust, skilled workforce to meet our goals. This forward-thinking legislation will provide more opportunities for minorities, women and other underrepresented communities to secure stable, high-paying careers in the field, and will provide a vital boost to strengthen and expand the telecommunications workforce. According to Boston Consulting Group, 5G will create over 126,700 new jobs in Mississippi, Arizona and South Carolina.”

Christina Mason, Vice President of Government Affairs, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA)

 “To eradicate the digital divide, a multifaceted approach is required.  Infrastructure has to make it out to areas that lack broadband, but a major stumbling block to that is the skilled expertise needed to realize new connectivity. Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Tribal Colleges and Universities can play a major role in addressing this glut, providing important job training opportunities for their students. And IMPACT Act, introduced by Senators Roger F. Wicker, Tim Scott, and Kyrsten Sinema, would provide the needed funds and comprehensive framework to make that happen.”

“The IMPACT Act creates a $100 million ‘Telecommunications Workforce Training Grant Program’ through the NTIA focused on HBCUs/TCUs/Minority-serving Institutions to develop telecommunications job-training programs for costs associated with instruction, internships and apprenticeships, and support of students in the field, among other aspects. The plan would also focus on getting more female students into the telecommunications training program, too – a core but grossly untapped constituency that would go far to improve workforce capacity in this important sector of our economy.”

“WISPA believes the IMPACT will make a positive impact on broadband connectivity, and, perhaps more importantly, the individuals gaining new opportunities with its funding. It will work to bring broadband connectivity to areas that lack it, while boosting the competitive jobs skills of those who have traditionally been underrepresented in the U.S. information and communications technology industry. We stand by this important piece of legislation, and pledge our best efforts to see that it comes into law.”