Senate Commerce Committee: Senators fret over lack of manpower to build 5G

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The Senate Commerce Committee convened a hearing "The 5G Workforce and Obstacles to Broadband Deployment" to discuss their 5G concerns, despite the fact that day one of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump went until almost 2am the night before. Seven members of the committee questioned the witnesses about the "5G labor shortage." According to Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), some projections estimate the US needs 20,000 more people to help "accelerate the deployment of 5G in order to win the race and secure the first-move advantage in the United States." Right now, there are about 27,000 workers prepared to install 5G equipment. "Additional labor will also be needed to lay fiber, to support wireless connections, install radios and deploy other essential equipment," Chairman Wicker said. The witnesses:

  • Brendan Carr, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
  • Shirley Bloomfield  Chief Executive Officer, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association
  • Harold Feld, Senior Vice President, Public Knowledge
  • Jimmy Miller, President and Chief Executive Officer, MillerCo, Inc.; Chairman, National Association of Tower Erectors (NATE)
  • Lisa Youngers, President and Chief Executive Officer, Fiber Broadband Association

The work behind building the flashy 5G technology is often taxing and difficult, requiring people to scale extraordinary heights and oftentimes travel away from their families, witnesses told the committee. The witnesses largely agreed that investing more in education — teaching telecom-specific skills to students in middle school, high school and college — could help with the issue. "We need to expand our workforce," Commissioner Carr said, expounding on his plan to use community colleges as a potential pipeline into the industry. Commissioner Carr said securing a 5G workforce was just as important as securing spectrum for next-gen wireless. He argued that the FCC's efforts to streamline buildouts as reaped "remarkable results," including internet speeds that were up 70% in only two years and a narrowing digital divide. He suggested the FCC's policies were a winning streak that needed extending, but that a consequence of that success was 20,000 job openings for tower climbers and techs for 5G. "These are good-paying jobs, too," he told the senators. "They do not require an expensive four-year degree. And they are 5G jobs that can help lift thousands of American families up into the middle class." 

Harold Feld warned the senators against buying into the "self-serving hype of industry stakeholders."  "Workforce shortages are a serious concern but Congress must make sure that workers are not exploited in the name of 5G," Feld said. Congress should ignore the claims of wireless networks that without further preemption of local authority America will “lose the race to 5G," he said. "To the contrary, by giving carriers free reign over local deployments, we will see large swaths of urban and rural America cut out of the 5G future entirely."


Senators fret over lack of manpower to build 5G Hearing Page Commissioner Carr's Testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee I get to deflate the 5G Hype Bubble a Bit at an Unusually Good Senate Hearing. (Harold Feld) Tired Senators Tackle 5G Jobs Issues (Multichannel News)