Remarks of FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn

WIA Wireless Infrastructure Show

Orlando, Florida
May 24, 2017

Closing the Skills Gap:
Preparing our Workforce for the Jobs of Tomorrow

Good morning. First, let me thank Amelia DeJesus for that gracious introduction, and express to Jonathan Adelstein and the distinguished members of the Wireless Infrastructure Association how honored I am to take part in this year’s Infrastructure Show. This morning, I would like to focus my remarks on a topic that is very important to me as well as the members of WIA: ensuring that our workforce has the skills necessary for the jobs of today, the opportunities to successfully compete for the jobs of tomorrow, and more clearly reflects the great diversity of our country.

During my nearly eight years as an FCC Commissioner, I have had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States, and meet with entrepreneurs, executives, students, educators, health care professionals, and others from many walks of life. It may or may not surprise you that there is one theme that resonates throughout all of these meetings: the importance of broadband access and its affordability.
I know in many respects I am preaching to the choir, since this crowd is intimately familiar with the importance of broadband, but that fact cannot be overemphasized. Without access to affordable broadband, our communities suffer: our children cannot do their homework, our unemployed cannot apply for jobs, the infirm may not receive timely care, and our budding entrepreneurs cannot stay competitive.
So as far as I am concerned – broadband is where we must all start. To have an educated, competitive workforce in this century and beyond, we must ensure that everyone in our communities truly has access to broadband service, for all of the infrastructure builds in the world will not enable access if the service is not affordable. This is why we must support and strengthen programs such as Lifeline, the Rural Healthcare Fund, and E-rate, that bring affordable connectivity to those in our communities who most need it. I fought hard to modernize the Lifeline program last year, and continue to fight to ensure the program fulfills its intended purpose.

Now I recognize that I am in mixed company here, but I would be remiss if I did not say that affordable access to an open internet is paramount. An open internet is good for consumers, it is good for business, and it is good for our country. There should not be internet fast lanes reserved for the few who are willing and able to pay, nor preferences shown to those with business relationships with a provider.
And the 2015 Open Internet Order reflects a long standing commitment shared by millions of Americans to protect a platform that inspires innovation and entrepreneurship, fosters freedom of speech and expression, and stimulates incentives for investment. Here, too, I am determined to do everything in my power to ensure the internet remains the preeminent engine of innovation and opportunities for our communities.
So, we have established the importance of ubiquitous and affordable broadband coverage that is unhindered by anti-competitive and anti-consumer schemes. Next, we need to ensure, that our workforce is prepared for the jobs of today and beyond. There is one fact that we cannot help but face here: most, if not all jobs of the future, will be infused with elements of technology, and yes, more and more jobs, will be taken over by computers and robots. While this means that the jobs of today will look radically different in the coming decades, that does not have to mean rampant unemployment.

We must look at this as an opportunity to re-educate and retool students and workers by offering them innovative learning opportunities. And while all agree that STEM or STEAM education is critical, equally important, I submit, are the abilities to think critically and communicate effectively. We have only vague ideas of what skill sets will be necessary in the next 20 years or so, but if we teach our students from an early age to be critical thinkers and inquisitive life learners they will be able to adapt to the needs of the future job market.
Essential as well, is building public-private partnerships to provide communities the skills they need to staff jobs. These partnerships can take many forms, including those between businesses and K-12 schools, community colleges and four year institutions, local communities and state and federal governments. Why not, for example, adopt a local school and donate computers and teaching resources, or provide internship opportunities to students in nearby communities? Why not partner with a local college to develop a curriculum that helps train students in the skills necessary to work in your industry?

The Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools or P-TECH, is an excellent example, of the synergies of public-private partnerships that educate our youth for the jobs of the future. P-TECH schools are designed to prepare high school students for future opportunities in technology, manufacturing, healthcare, and finance, and include rigorous, relevant STEM education, mentoring opportunities, visits to companies, and internships. Students graduate from the six-year program with a high school diploma as well as an associate degree at no additional cost to their families. This is capped with a commitment from the participating business partners to recruit students who complete the program.
P-TECH will be in over 100 schools by the end of this year and over 300 companies already participate. Such initiatives directly benefit the bottom line of businesses and bridge the affordability gap that is preventing so many bright but economically strapped students from graduating to a more prosperous tomorrow. For many if not all companies, acquiring and retaining talent is by far the biggest cost, and hiring from a pool of applicants who have an established relationship with the organization, and know the work and culture, quickly translates to reduction in “time to productivity” and increased job satisfaction.

The Virginia Workforce grant program is another noteworthy example. This program enables students at Virginia’s community colleges to participate in 124 different training programs that provide workforce credentials for a third of the price. Working with industry partners, the community colleges developed a list of eligible credentials for over 170 grey-collar jobs, such as electricians, computer network specialists, digital security specialists, and industrial machinery mechanics. These types of jobs require specific skill sets in addition to a high school degree, but not necessarily a college degree, and these jobs are in high demand.

And, of course, I have to acknowledge WIA’s contributions to this effort. Just yesterday, Jonathan announced that WIA will launch a Telecommunications Education Center or TEC next month. This new learning program will offer courses that reflect the needs of the wireless industry. Education and training in areas such as Wireless Fundamentals, DAS, Small Cells, Wi-Fi, Macro Cellular Infrastructure as well as 5G and emerging trends will be offered, and TEC will also support apprenticeships in the industry.
Fostering and supporting apprenticeships is an important tool in our efforts, and the federal government has a key role to play here as well. Last year, the prior administration announced that it had awarded over $50 million in grants to assist states, in implementing programs to support apprenticeships. These programs include Alaska’s efforts to create apprenticeship opportunities in health care and aviation, Florida’s efforts to address the critical need for skilled and diverse workers in occupation-growth industries, and Guam’s plans to increase opportunities for underrepresented workers, in the construction and tourism industries.

Another innovative program, TechHire, was developed under the prior administration, but is now a national movement in its own right. The project is a national network of communities, educators, and employers that aims to expand local technology sectors by building talent pipelines in local communities. Under the original program, the Department of Labor awarded $150 million in grants, including $125 million for partnerships that train young people, 17-29 years old, and $24 million for partnerships that help those in disadvantaged groups facing barriers to employment, including veterans, those with disabilities, and people with criminal records.

In the words of the organization, “TechHire enables employers to fill entry-level, career-path, skilled tech jobs, by hiring trained job seekers with the ability to do the job – but who are overlooked by typical hiring practices and/or underrepresented in the IT field. In its pilot year, TechHire grew to include over 1300 employers, 237 community and training partners, and placed over 4000 people into jobs.”
Finally, we must strive to be inclusive in our hiring and retention practices to ensure that our workforce and supply chain, reflect the rich diversity of our communities. This means re-evaluating hiring practices, and casting a wider, more inclusive net, to capture diverse candidates. Programs such as TechHire highlight a growing trend of employers being more pragmatic and recognizing that credentials, not just diplomas, are needed for jobs. This is especially true in underrepresented communities, where there are many impediments to obtaining a four year college degree.

In order to have a more inclusive workforce, companies must rework the evaluation matrix to incorporate those who may have stubbed their toes along the way, such as those with a legal blemish on their records. Many of those who are incarcerated are entrepreneurial – unfortunately, they did not have the opportunities in their neighborhoods to utilize their skills in a positive way.
We can all play a role in cutting the cradle-to-prison pipeline that is prevalent in so many of our communities – and providing the primary breadwinner a way to support his or her family is one important way that this can be achieved. Affordable inmate calling services rates is another, but that is a topic for another day.

We all have biases – instead of ignoring or denying them, we need to ensure that they do not short circuit someone who has the potential to be an asset to your company. And once hired, companies must be proactive in implementing mentorships and other programs, that provide support to new employees from underrepresented groups. Successful companies recognize that it requires a prolonged, systematic process to have a more diverse company and workforce – in other words, a top-down approach and buy-in from all levels of management in order for everyone to succeed.

This is just as true when it comes to ensuring supply chain diversity – it takes an ongoing commitment to make that a reality. I applaud WIA, for its documented and sustained commitment to promoting, encouraging, and supporting supplier diversity. And I am honored to kick off WIA’s 2017 Supplier Diversity Summit which promises to be an informative and unparalleled opportunity for small, minority, and women-owned companies, to engage with the experts and decision makers from major wireless companies.
The Commission’s Office of Communications and Business Opportunities, or OCBO, has also played an important role when it comes to promoting supply chain diversity over the last several years. OCBO has held several workshops to connect small businesses and entrepreneurs with financial experts, has developed tools to assist entities with obtaining investment capital, and has created online networking programs to connect these entities with other businesses.
OCBO has also worked with the Small Business Administration to enhance the abilities of small business to thrive in an increasingly competitive environment, and is exploring ways to advise small businesses about best practices when it comes to cyber security, as well as teaching small businesses how to increase their digital literacy and e-commerce skills. OCBO is a valuable resource for entrepreneurs seeking to enter the communications market, and I hope that it will continue to be so, in the years to come. You will hear more about the work of OCBO during the Diversity and Inclusion Panel that is taking place later this morning.

We must all play a role in producing, educating, and training the next generation of American workers. We cannot afford to ignore the reality that the very technologies that make our lives more efficient and connected have irrevocably altered the job and opportunities landscape. This does not mean rejecting innovation or slowing it down, it means finding the ancillary opportunities for the automated and computerized jobs, ensuring our students and workers have the requisite STEM and critical thinking skills to adapt to the workplace demands of the future, and ensuring our workforce reflects the rich diversity of our great nation.

So while we have a lot of demands that face us going forward, we have shown time and time again that we have the means to adapt, the capacity to adjust and the tenacity to get the job done, so let’s continue to work, and make it happen. Thank you and I welcome any questions you have.

Remarks of Michael O’Rielly, FCC Commissioner

Before the 2017 Wireless Infrastructure Show, Orlando, FL
May 23, 2017

I appreciate that very warm welcome, and I am so pleased that Jonathan has invited me to join you once again. Before I get to the substance of my remarks, let me take a moment to thank you for all that you do to bring wireless service, especially broadband Internet, to American families throughout our nation. You probably don’t hear that often enough, but the companies that many of you represent actually build things. Infrastructure may be a current buzz word in Washington, D.C., but you grapple with the facets of infrastructure each and every day.

As a government official and a glorified paper pusher, I am in awe, and somewhat envious, of those in the construction and building industries, such as yours. Watching construction professionals at work makes you feel like a kid again. The end result of your work is tangible, physical structures that bring benefits to the residents of the respective communities. In your case, tens of millions of Americans will have the wonders of wireless communications due to your hard work. So, thank you.

It’s been just over two years since my last visit with you all and sadly the overall picture of issues of importance hasn’t changed all that much. A few things have changed in this time: a new administration, a new Chairman, and a refreshing new outlook on communications policy. Not to mention, overnight older less nimble PCIA morphed into wiz-bang, modern WIA. While I have had success moving some policy initiatives at the Commission, I certainly wouldn’t use the terms “quick” or “efficient” to label our current processes. Every once in a while, a well-timed blog or speech resulted in an item, progress or a worthwhile discussion. But, immense progress has been unfortunately slow afoot in the infrastructure world.

Twilight Towers

There was one issue in particular that I had great hopes for when I last spoke to this group. I had the speech, the substance, and the facts were on my side. It was getting done. Alas, I will start my speech today by talking about how we still have to conclude “twilight towers.”

It defies explanation that we have not resolved an issue that we have known about for twelve years. I was hopeful when I spoke to staff after my last visit with you. The Commission was finally ready to act, but action turned into stakeholder discussions, and discussions turned into…nothing.

Regardless, I hope you know that I appreciated your efforts to talk to interested parties and willingness to negotiate a solution for the estimated 4,300 twilight towers. Your work provided a compelling data point. Clearly, the Commission’s lack of action to address the regulatory uncertainty around these towers is prohibiting approximately 6,500 antenna collocations. You know better than anyone that we need these antennas to meet consumer expectations of increased capacity and speed.

But, there may finally be light at the end of this long tunnel, as the Commission formally issued an item last month seeking official comment on how this issue should be resolved. While the notice tees up the notion of grandfathering or making corrective filings as towers are identified, which I doubt the necessity of, I am willing to hear any and all suggestions. My goal is to ensure that we put an end to the twilight towers issue once and for all. Further, the notice includes, at my request, a definitive statement that there will be no enforcement action taken on legitimate twilight towers, meaning companies caught in this quagmire will not be subject to any penalties by the Commission. That’s good news!

Tower Marking

When discussing infrastructure issues, it also seems that some instances follow a consistent pattern of taking one step forward only to then take two steps back. In 2014, the Commission eliminated unnecessary tower marking and lighting burdens on industry while ensuring the safety of aircraft. Ironically enough, I discussed this very achievement the last time I addressed you all. At that time, the picture seemed to be getting better. However, last year, Congress passed the FAA Extension, Safety and Security Act of 2016, which included a provision that basically mandates that all towers ranging between 50 to 200 feet meet certain paint and lighting requirements. And two steps backward we go.

The underlying reason for the provision, while admirable, appears to be based on incidents where crop dusters and other low altitude planes hit temporary meteorological testing towers. The actual language in the statute, however, can be seen to have broad applicability with narrow exceptions, which do not extend to permanent communications towers.

While no one disputes the desire to protect human life for those aviators whizzing planes inches from the ground, we must also recognize the real world effects of this new mandate. Carrying out the burden as written will be an extremely expensive undertaking due to the cost of the specialized labor that climbs these towers. The appropriate paint is also needed. You can’t just run into your local Home Depot and grab a can of Benjamin Moore on sale. Together, I hear that it runs an estimated $12,000 to $15,000 to paint and light a tower. Not to mention, the law captures approximately 25,000 communications towers and another 25,000 broadcast towers. In total, it’s an estimated $750 million every five to seven years. I am sure others have potentially more costly estimates than this.

Again, I don’t want to see anyone hurt or, even worse, lose their lives. It is without question that there have been accidents involving crop dusters. But, it doesn’t appear that communications towers are to blame one iota. According to the requisite data, there is a good chance that, had the new provision of law been in effect, it would not have saved any pilot lives or prevented any crashes or incidents. And as you are well aware, we also must consider the lives of those that will climb and paint these communications towers.

Then there are the truly unintended consequences of this law. Here is just one: if companies have limited dollars to spend, why would they build out in rural America where profits are lower, but expenses would skyrocket due to this mandate? Rural America will lose out because these dollars will instead go to urban and suburban communities where these specific tower marking requirements are not in effect. Overall, this will seriously reduce the chances of 5G deployments in rural America, stymie smart agriculture, and hamper our efforts to extend broadband to the most remote areas.

I suggest improvements to this provision are in order. One way to do this is to clarify that communications towers are exempt. There are, of course, other ways to fix this situation but the key is to get it addressed properly and quickly, especially as we approach certain deadlines in the statute.

Tower Crews and the Repack

We also have to keep in mind that tower crews are in high demand these days. Wireless companies will be building out AWS-3 and 600 MHz spectrum; hopefully we will auction millimeter wave and 3.5 GHz in the not too distant future; and providers are generally densifying their networks. Then, there are the approximately 987 stations in the next 39-months that are part of the broadcast spectrum incentive auction repack.

While I am on the subject, I understand that tower companies have responded to the call and are ready to take on this challenge. I also have heard from broadcasters who admit that it is in their best interest to conclude the repack as quickly as possible, and obviously the winners of the 600 MHz auction are seeking the same. Kudos to those wireless carriers who have invested in tower companies to increase tower and antenna construction, and expedite installation and deployment efforts. While some are rightfully concerned about the ability to meet the current deadlines, I think it is not irrational that we wait to see how the first stages go before jumping to any premature conclusions. If it looks like we cannot meet the 39-month timeframe, at some point, we can reassess. In the meantime, I suggest that everyone should take a deep breath as we head down the repack path together.

Facilities Siting

Finally, as you know, the Commission and Congress have taken steps to minimize barriers to infrastructure deployment, but problems still abound. In two separate but related proceedings, the Commission is finally expanding our review and involvement to look at this problem holistically. Let me talk today about the two issues I hear about most – access to the public rights of way and the tribal approval process.

Despite efforts to curb such behavior, industry is still experiencing excessive delays and moratoria when filing siting applications for access to locality rights of way. The record is replete with reports of long pre-application processes before an application can be filed or is deemed complete and applications going through two years or more of review before a decision is actually made. These long, intentional delays are also turning into de facto moratoria, with endless tolling agreements and excuses about insufficient resources or the need for new local laws. Verizon, for instance, has reported that at least 34 communities either have explicit moratoria or just refuse to process applications or engage with applicants. This is blatantly illegal.

Many localities are also imposing zoning-like procedures for facilities on rights of way, causing extensive delays and some ridiculous outcomes. For instance, localities are contemplating such things as network design and performance, including inserting their judgment as to whether a macro or small cell should be used to cover an area; equipment placement; and radiofrequency (RF) exposure issues. I have heard of localities denying applications for infrastructure upgrades, because the provider offers existing service and, therefore, additional facilities are deemed unnecessary. Some even go so far as saying that the infrastructure should be located underground, as if that would ever work for wireless services. Localities should not be making such decisions, and, in fact, they are expressly prohibited, under the law, from basing decisions on RF exposure.

These are not acceptable responses to new small cell technologies that need to be deployed for the U.S. to maintain its position as the leader in wireless communications. The Commission should clarify that such behavior is not consistent with the Communications Act, which clearly reads that state and local regulations may not “have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.” It should also be clear that dictating providers’ technologies and network design does not fall within their authority to manage their public rights of way. And if this is not resolved quickly and satisfactorily, the Commission must be willing to use its preemption authority.

It is also hard to argue that the excessive fees charged are fair and reasonable compensation for the use of the public rights of way. Fees typically include an exorbitant one-time payment – we have seen some localities charge as much as $5,000 or $10,000 per site – to review antenna structure applications and agreements. Some localities also charge for the consultants reviewing siting applications, which can be $8,500 per pole with additional inspection fees after installation. Some also charge recurring yearly fees of $6000 per pole, while others take a percentage of gross revenues. But this entire fee structure does not add up for small cell systems that can require a site every few blocks. There needs to be a declaration that fees similar to those imposed on macro towers are not appropriate or sustainable for small cell networks.

Tribal Review Process

The problems I just discussed are compounded by the escalating costs of the tribal approval process. One provider reports that, in 2011, they were paying an average of $439 in tribal review fees per site, and now they pay on average $6754. That’s almost a 1500 percent increase. And, more tribes have been expressing interest. For instance, 19 tribes responded to an application to add an antenna to a building in Cleveland and 39 tribes, of which 27 demanded fees, wanted to review sites in suburban Chicago. This is not economically sustainable. Further, tribes are receiving the payments, but then never respond as to whether there is actual concern, causing endless delays.

Once again, I understand that the majority of tribes are acting in good faith but, if the others do not act reasonably, the Commission will need to look at more drastic alternatives. I have a number of ideas on how best to effectuate change if needed, and I plan to review recent comments in the record and forge a proposal, in consultation with the Chairman on the topic, in the very near future. I will certainly welcome your thoughts on the matter.

So, there you have my take on a number of critical issues at the FCC. While I may not have mentioned your favorite policy issue or topic, please do not take it as an indication that I am not supportive of fixing those as well, whatever they may be. But, I’ve only been provided so much time!

Before I exit, I think it is important to acknowledge the excellent participants for your next panel for all of their hard work within WIA and to bring wireless broadband to our nation: Stephen Marshall from American Tower, Jay Brown from Crown Castle, Jeffrey Stoops from SBA Communications, Alexander Gellman from Vertical Bridge, and David Weisman from InSite Wireless.

Thank you very much to the upcoming panel. And, thank you so much for having me join your conference today. I’m happy to take a few questions, time permitting.

Article Courtesy of Federal Communications Comission (FCC)