FCC Chairman Ajit Pai gave kudos to the wireless industry for keeping Americans connected Tuesday during WIA’s Connect (X) virtual event. He saluted WIA and its members, “for stepping up even before the pandemic. The foundation for success was laid by your members. They put in the hard work, raised the funds, deployed the work crews, and built the networks.”
Over 770 providers have taken the pledge to keep everyone connected, he said. During a time with a lot of uncertainties, “at least connectivity is something they know that they can count on” the Chairman said.
He noted that, “connectivity does not grow on trees. It takes workers to build and maintain the networks. As they do that work we want to make sure they are safe.” Pai said he’s spoken with the Department of Homeland Security and members of the administration’s coronavirus task force to make sure wireless infrastructure workers get personal protective equipment.
Speaking of the wireless workforce, WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein asked Pai during his keynote, what can be done to ensure the industry has enough workers to build out 5G.
Pai called the workforce issue “vital.” He discussed climbing about a 130-ft tower in Colorado, something that he “probably won’t do again.” But the work entails, “not just climbing up and attaching something light. It’s heavy,” and “you have to navigate the weather.” He called the workforce issue a question of matching supply and demand.
Adelstein said the labor market was tight before the pandemic. Now, with many people out of work, he wondered if it would make sense for Congress to provide direct support to employers to retrain workers?
“It’s something Congress will have to consider. They’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of months,” said Pai. “There’s clearly a return on investment. These are good jobs being created. There’s a win-win [here], but I’ll leave it to Congress as to how a solution should be crafted.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief