O’Rielly Hopeful FCC Will Tee Up Tall Tower Action “In The Very Near Future”

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Easing siting for macro towers remains on the FCC’s “to-do” list. Towers will still be needed as the wireless industry deploys small cell and 5G infrastructure, members of the Senate Commerce Committee were told Wednesday during a hearing on the Industries of the Future Act of 2020. The legislation would advance U.S. leadership in next-generation wireless networks and infrastructure, as well as artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, quantum information science and synthetic biology.

“While considerable attention is paid to small cell design and installation, in many suburban and rural markets, 5G offerings will rely on equipment attached to macro towers,” testified FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly. He said the agency, “will need to be aggressive to ensure the siting process is not impeded, and I am hopeful we will take new action on macros in the very near future.”

Concerning workforce needs in the future, O’Rielly said much attention, “has rightfully been paid to the need for more tower installation crews.” However, job growth in “additional fields, including RF management, communications engineering, and other related skills, is similarly needed,” he added. While some of these positions can be filled with on-the-job training, others will require more intense efforts. O’Rielly foresees industry needing an action plan, possibly looking to the federal government for help.

His colleague, fellow FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, agrees there needs to be a plan to invest in more job training. “In the near term, the United States will have to train another 20,000 tower climbers to help install 5G equipment. In the longer term, we will need many other workers for every layer of the 5G ecosystem,” she testified. “But the Department of Labor currently does not list 5G jobs as a priority for its registered apprenticeship programs. This is a problem—and we should fix it.”

The skills necessary to secure and keep a job are changing fast, but data suggest a steady decline in the amount employers are investing in their workforce, according to Rosenworcel. She suggests the government encourage more investment in workers. “It’s time to explore a human capital tax credit to offset a portion of new training activities to support the future of work. This could help upgrade our workforce, ensure access to in-demand skills, and create more job security for American workers nationwide,” she said.

Sen. Roger Wicker, (R-MS), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, along with Sens. Cory Gardner, (R-CO), and Tammy Baldwin, (D-WI), chair and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Science, Oceans, Fisheries, and Weather, and Sen. Gary Peters, (D-MI), introduced the measure discussed at the hearing. “As technology continues to evolve, bringing new opportunities and challenges along with it, it’s critical the United States plan ahead for the Industries of the Future,” said Gardner. “This bill will help America prepare for new innovations and technologies that will change the world and increase the quality of life for people everywhere.”

The Industries of the Future Act of 2020 would require:

  • The administration to develop a report on the research and development programs of the federal government that focus on future industries.
  • A plan for doubling the baseline investments in such industries by 2022, and a plan for increasing civilian spending on future industries to $10 billion by fiscal year 2025. The bill would also require the administration to propose legislation to implement such spending plans. 
  • A coordination council that would better focus existing entities and compel those entities to focus on advancing future industries.

Following the hearing, the Wireless Infrastructure Association praised the measure. “WIA strongly supports the Industries of the Future Act. Better federal coordination on workforce development investments is vital to [making sure] the future workforce is a properly trained workforce,” stated WIA VP Government and Public Affairs Matt Mandel.

He said WIA has been, “leading the way to train and build a 5G-ready workforce,” and characterized the bill as “a significant leap for future skills and future jobs that our nation needs.” Mandel continued: “I would like to thank Chairman Wicker and Sens. Gardner, Baldwin, and Peters for their vision and commitment to ensuring that the U.S. will continue to lead the world in wireless innovation.”

By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief 

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