CWA calls for Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act implementation to prioritize high-road employers, highly trained workers, and fiber-to-the-premise deployments

In response to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) request for comment on the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), CWA provided clear policy recommendations aimed at promoting high quality jobs and expeditious deployment of well-built, affordable, and sustainable broadband networks to underserved communities nationwide. In the comments, CWA calls for NTIA to ensure that states harness the multi-billion dollar effort to create high quality jobs and address low-road subcontracting, and that states work closely with municipal, county and tribal governments, labor, and consumer advocates to develop plans that will best meet consumer needs and create sustainable infrastructure.

A leader in the broadband sector, CWA represents more than 150,000 workers in wireline and wireless communications and consistently supports policies that promote fast, reliable deployment of affordable broadband to all, as well as quality jobs for workers. As NTIA formulates guidance for states on the use of BIL broadband funds, CWA will have an important role representing telecom workers’ voices with CWA President Chris Shelton recently named as the labor organization representative to the FCC’s Telecommunications Workforce Working Group.

In its filed comments, CWA asserts a strong “fiber first” orientation and asks that the NTIA give preference to FTTP deployments, as fiber continues to be the more resilient, sustainable, and efficient technology, delivering faster speeds and dedicated bandwidth to each household, while being scalable for future technological demands. Fiber internet uses optic lines that transmit signals at the speed of light and does not require amplifiers on telephone poles to transmit signal. In addition to reducing energy demand and carbon footprint, use of pure fiber networks also simplifies repairs during electrical outages, ensuring a more sustainable technology. With the internet an essential resource, it is critical now more than ever that American families receive fast, high-quality connectivity they can rely on.

“The infrastructure bill’s multi-billion dollar broadband investment provides enormous potential for the deployment of reliable networks and the creation of sustainable jobs for US workers. When determining how to most effectively allocate this funding, the NTIA needs to consider the existing structure of the broadband labor sector, especially the issue of subcontracting,” said Shane Larson, Senior Director of Government Affairs and Policy at CWA. “As our country continues to adapt to the realities of the pandemic, and remote schooling and work increasingly become the norm, it is critical that the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is done right, with fiber-to-the-premise technology and by well-trained workers in high quality jobs.”

State governments and regulators will play a critical role in how broadband deployment is implemented, and are required by the BIL to lead significant local coordination efforts, including developing 5-year action plans “informed by collaboration with local and regional entities.” CWA recommends that NTIA set up a framework for stakeholder consultation, in order to solicit needs, concerns, and other input from municipal, county, tribal governments, labor unions, consumer advocate groups, and other stakeholders. This feedback will be critical to developing broadband plans that best meet the needs of all communities.

CWA also emphasized in its recommendations the importance of broadband companies utilizing a highly-trained workforce that can build states’ broadband networks safely and efficiently, and of ensuring the creation of career pathways for women and people of color. In the current landscape, internet service providers too often rely on low-paid and inadequately trained subcontractors for their broadband deployment. This can result in botched rollouts and safety hazards to the public, including loose cables that increase the risk of electrocution, improperly buried cables, falls or accidents, and subcontractors unfamiliar with local infrastructure damaging existing power or water lines, to the cost of localities and taxpayers. When low-road employers cut corners, it not only hurts workers, but also delays deployment and creates infrastructure that fails to stand the test of time. CWA recommends the NTIA encourage state plans to include high-road labor policies and create jobs for workers directly employed by the ISP operating the network. This requirement would pay dividends for workers, communities and the US economy overall, and ensure deployment is carried out in a manner that is safe and effective. It also creates opportunities for thousands of recently laid-off telecom workers to reenter the workforce and once again serve their communities with essential communications infrastructure.

CWA strongly cautioned in its comments against industry requests for a programmatic waiver of the BIL’s Buy America requirements for broadband network components. If granted, this overly-broad waiver would permit those who have profited for years from a business model of offshoring broadband equipment production to China and elsewhere to continue doing so despite Congress’ express intent to develop a domestic supply chain to serve the national interest. Broad waivers are “get-out-of-reshoring-free cards” and CWA opposes their use in all cases, but especially in a critical sector like broadband.

With $65 billion invested in broadband deployment in the US, it’s essential that this buildout is done right. That means ensuring firm policies are in place that will hold telecom companies accountable to a reliable and sustainable deployment of high-speed fiber technology and by workers with expertise in this field.

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CWA calls for Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act implementation to prioritize high-road employers, highly-trained workers and fiber-to-the-premise (CWA, Feb. 9, 2022)