Senate Goes West to Hear Rural Broadband Testimony

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VIKOR Teleconstruction CEO Craig Snyder, who’s also co-founder and former Chairman of the National Tower Erectors Association, asked Congress and the FCC Thursday for help in two ways to bring broadband to rural America.

Snyder commended the FCC and Commissioner Brendan Carr specifically, for the agency’s “forward-thinking” in clearing regulatory hurdles as the industry works to deploy 5G services. But more needs to be done to reduce regulatory red tape and with workforce development, Snyder said. 

Whereas the electric utility industry has almost no zoning or federal hurdles involved in placing their elevated steel infrastructure across our cities and rural areas, telecommunications towers have been met with resistance at almost every turn,” he testified during a field hearing in Sioux Falls, SD on rural broadband. The hearing before members of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet was led by Subcommittee Chairman John Thune (R-SD).

Snyder cited bills in the House and Senate that could help alleviate the burdens on the telecom industry. “In particular we could use some help from the Senate with a companion bill to H.R. 1848 – Communications Training Act of 2019, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Representatives Dave Loebsck (D-IA) and Markwayne Mullin (R-OK). This bill would appropriate $20m per year for three fiscal years to develop classroom and field-based curriculum and certificate programs like the one being proposed by Southeast Tech,” Snyder testified.  

Snyder credited NATE for raising the bar in terms of safety and standardization of the wireless infrastructure workforce. An entry-level wireless infrastructure technician can make “upwards of $60,000 a year,” according to Snyder. “We have been a long-neglected trade among our electrician, plumbing, mechanic, and other fellow tradesmen in terms of educational opportunities. Whereas there are programs for most trades, there are not for tower technicians.” 

Tower Technicians must be trained by the companies that onboard them — like VIKOR, according to Snyder. He characterized that as a “long and expensive” process, typically costing his company about $12,000 in the first six months of employment. That’s why he and NATE are supporting the workforce bills in Congress.

Carr, who also testified, summarized FCC actions to close the digital divide. “We identified more than a billion dollars in ‘upfront fees’ and other federal regulatory charges that were needlessly increasing the cost and slowing down the build out of small cells and other next-gen infrastructure. We acted to rein in those excessive fees,” said Carr, referring to the agency’s small cells order. He noted the number of small cells put up in the U.S. increased from 13,000 in 2017 to more than 60,000 in 2018. Estimates predict a total of 200,000 small cells in the U.S. by the end of this year, he testified.

The small cell and 5G builds are good for workers, according to Carr, who added many broadband construction jobs remain unfilled. “The industry tells me that it needs to hire 20,000 more tower climbers and telecom techs to build 5G.” Carr also discussed the agency’s 5G jobs initiative. “Modeled on a program developed by Aiken Technical College in South Carolina, it looks to community colleges as a pipeline for these 5G jobs,” he said.

He’s been working to expand the model program nationwide and he’s pleased Southeast Tech is looking to add a tower tech program at its Sioux Falls campus. Snyder, too, said the industry needs more trade schools to establish tower technician training programs and commended Southeast Tech for considering adding such a program.

Carr toured a number of broadband-related sites in South Dakota in the days leading up to the hearing. Yesterday, he climbed 120 feet up a 330-foot Midco tower near Mitchell, SD. Midco is a NATE member. So, too, is VIKOR.

September 6, 2019

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