The FCC has assisted 5G through spectrum allocations and streamlined zoning regulations to meet the need for more small cells. But the success of these efforts has led to a new dilemma: the lack of a workforce to build out that infrastructure.
To that end, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr a workforce development event that highlighted the Tower Installation Program at Aiken Technical College in Graniteville, South Carolina, this week to promote the need for practical and classroom training that enables workers to find jobs as tower climbers.
“We have been modernizing our permitting rules to enable the deployment [of small cells]. Now we are at a point where are seeing a big increase in small cells that are going up and that creates a new challenge to have a skilled workforce in place to actually do this build,” Carr said. “The industry estimates that we need 20,000 workers to build out this infrastructure. The only way we can to that is to get more certified telecommunication tower technicians, [known as TTT1].”
The Tower Installation Program at Aiken Tech, which is one of 16 colleges in the South Carolina Technical College System, trains students in accordance with the standards and internationally-recognized certifications, including TTT-1, established by the National Wireless Safety Alliance. Nearly 100 percent of the program’s graduates are placed with a tower company in the Carolinas or in Georgia.
“A key pathway to getting more certified tower technicians is in community college programs, such as Aiken Technical School,” Carr said. “You can come in with zero skills and within 12 weeks, through a combination of classroom training and practical exercises, you come out able to find a job as a tower climber.”
Carr has been working with other stakeholders such as the National Wireless Safety Alliance to replicate what Aiken is doing when it comes to training tower climbers in other community colleges and technical schools.
“The community college model makes sense because it gives you access to Pell grants and other military funding. They are embedded in the community and are able to pull in people that are interested in this line of work,” Carr said.
Workforce development is not a traditional FCC regulatory function, but Carr and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai have taken a holistic view of the 5G regulatory process and its impact on the build out the infrastructure. They have both visited cell tower sites and made multiple climbs up to the top.
Also on this road trip Carr took a tour of the Raycap | STEALTH small cell manufacturing facility in Charleston, South Carolina, which has been growing its workforce at a rate of 5 percent to 10 percent monthly.
“You sit in DC and try to get these small cells regulatory reforms done, and it is really heartening to come out here and see that things really are speeding up. This buildout is really happening,” Carr said.
NATE, NWSA Representatives Also Attend Event
Also at the workforce development event was National Wireless Safety Association (NWSA) Executive Director Duane MacEntee, NWSA Board of Directors member Pat Cipov, NWSA Board of Governors member Dr. Gemma Frock and NATE Board of Directors member Shama Ray. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr and Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) were also on hand as special guests at the event.
With workforce development a top priority for companies at every layer of the wireless infrastructure ecosystem, the event helped shine a spotlight on the successful Tower Installation Program at Aiken Technical College. During the event, participants conducted a tour and talked to students of the college’s Basic Tower and Wireless Installation certificate program.
The program involves a 7-week curriculum model consisting of both classroom and field-based instruction intended to provide students with the necessary theory and hands-on education to receive a job in the applicable field. Topics covered include safety, basic rigging, fall protection, principles of electricity, fiber optics, wireless technology, cell components, antenna basics, and spectrum management. Students who graduate from the program can immediately seek employment in the industry or can elect to progress to the Advanced Tower and Wireless Installation Certificate and work towards the Associate in Applied Science at Aiken Technical College.
The FCC’s press release on the item, which was approved at the August FCC open meeting, said moratoria are not allowed by the Communications Act because under Section 253(a), they “prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service.”
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly was very emphatic in his opposition to moratoria, saying there is a long history of congressional opposition to moratoria on tower and antennas. O’Rielly said that moratoria are merely “mindless delay.”
“Let me make this clear for those local officials who may not have been listening in the past: NO MORATORIUMS; NO MORATORIUMS; ABSOLUTELY NO MORATORIUMS,” O’Rielly said in all capital letters in his written statement. “It is beyond me that we are still having to deal with this outrageous practice after so many years, especially given how important broadband can be to the very citizens residing in these areas.”The lone Democrat on the Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel took issue with the declaratory ruling, saying that it lacked “the legal analysis.” She questioned the wisdom of ignoring the ability of local officials to set their own rules, such as the moratorium that is currently in place on laying fiber in coastal South Carolina during hurricane season.
“Going forward, three unelected officials sitting here today preempt these local policies because they believe Washington knows better,” Rosenworcel said. “We need to find a modern way to balance the needs for national deployment policies with local realities so that across the board government authorities support what we need everywhere—digital age infrastructure.”
O’Rielly said he realized the declaratory ruling was controversial and would probably be tested in court, but he welcomed the challenge to the FCC’s authority in this area. “Every ounce of Congressional authority provided to the Commission must be used as a counterforce against moratoriums,” he said.
Also during his statement, O’Rielly seemed to take a shot at former BDAC member San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who created a $24 million digital inclusion fund as part of public/private relationships with carriers that want to deploy small cells.
“And, the record is replete with examples of such out-of-bound practices, such as digital inclusion funds, that unnecessarily create political slush funds and raise the cost of service for consumers,” O’Rielly said.
Moratoria Previously in FCC Cross Hairs
FCC’s dislike of moratoria is not new. Back in 2014, at the Wireless Infrastructure Show, then-Commssioner Ajit Pai outlined his plan for streamlining the regulatory treatment of DAS and small cells, curbing local moratoria and modifying the shot-clock rules.
Pai proposed to clarify that local moratoria on the approval of new wireless infrastructure violate section 332(c)(7) of the Communications Act, which states that applications should be processed within a reasonable period of time.
“And now some cities are trying to evade those limits by adopting moratoriums on the approval of new wireless infrastructure,” he said.
Actually, it wasn’t the first time O’Rielly has blasted the use of moratoria to impede the rollout of small cells. He pointed to moratoria by Florida municipalities during a meeting of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC), last November, in Washington, DC.
“The barriers being imposed are not caused by a failure to collaborate, but a failure to heed to current law and a resistance to allow citizens access to modern communications unless certain localities impose their will or extract bounties from providers,” O’Rielly said.
O’Rielly said problem of local governments setting up regulatory environments that are hostile to small cells is getting worse, “despite the existence of [BDAC].”
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 29 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.
The FCC approved a Notice of Inquiry today on creating a Universal Service Fund pilot program to promote the use of telehealth services among low-income Americans and veterans in rural areas. The proposal would establish a $100 million “Connected Care Pilot Program,” which would be led by Commissioner Brendan Carr.
Telehealth services include remote patient monitoring technologies and mobile health applications that can be accessed on smartphones, tablets and other connected devices by patients in rural areas.
“Advances in mobile technology and applications mean that Americans can now get high-quality healthcare delivered directly to them, regardless of where they are located,” said Commissioner Carr. “With this new pilot program, the FCC is looking to support this trend in telehealth and ensure that even more communities get a fair shot at next-generation telehealth opportunities.”
The program has gathered support from a number of health professionals, including
Dr. Karen Rheuban, UVA Center for Telehealth, who encouraged the FCC to align its initiative with the Veteran’s Health Administration and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Not surprisingly, support came from the American Telemedicine Association, which tweeted, “We’re proud to support this pilot program, which will help bridge the urban-rural healthcare gap. #TelehealthForward”
Support also came from American Hospital Association, American Agri-Women and National Grange, as well as from Congress.
Nebraska Senator Deb Fischer said, “I welcome the new telehealth initiative from the FCC. This program would increase Nebraskans’ access to connected health care services and life-saving technologies. Better telehealth connectivity will improve follow-up care and enhance doctors’ ability to monitor patients outside of the hospital.”
Speaking at the AGL Local Summit in Philadelphia earlier this year, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said he has an appreciation for the hard, often gritty work that goes into deploying the wireless infrastructure necessary to bring next-generation opportunity to communicate. The commissioner viewed wireless deployments in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, in Beatty, Nevada, and in Baltimore and Detroit.
The commissioner also said he attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening of a training facility built by Sioux Falls Tower & Communications in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which has a 50-foot-tall practice structure.
“I had the chance to climb it with two of their experienced tower workers, Brandon and Leland,” Carr said. “Looking back, I am convinced that they left at least one zero off of that 50-foot description. When we reached platform at the top, I was a little winded. And it did not help when Brandon and Leland started rocking the structure back and forth in an exercise they said was designed to give me a sense of the conditions on a taller tower like the 2,000-foot one Brandon recently climbed.”
To have an FCC commissioner engaged with wireless infrastructure on these two levels — business development and safety — supports an optimistic view for advancements in wireless communications.
In a mention that I have reason to like, Carr recalled writing an article, “How Federal Preemption Helps Tower Owners,” that AGL Magazinepublished in 2006. “Fast forward a dozen years later, and I would submit that finding ways to modernize and streamline wireless infrastructure deployment is as important as ever,” he said.
My thanks to Commissioner Carr for speaking at the AGL Local Summit. The attention the FCC pays to facilitating wireless infrastructure development and doing it in a safe manner will be helpful to those in the tower, small cell and distributed antenna system business.
And, if you have been considering whether to write an article for AGL Magazine, take heed of what it did for Brendan Carr’s career. Hesitate no longer.
Come to the next AGL Local Summit September 27 in Kansas City.
On July 12, the FCC took steps with an order and a notice of proposed rulemaking leading to making available for wireless communications 500 megahertz of radio-frequency spectrum in the 3.7-GHz to 4.2-GHz range known as mid-band spectrum. Anything that helps wireless carriers to offer improved and additional services means opportunity for the wireless infrastructure business.
Executive Editor and Associate Publisher
Don Bishop joined AGL Media Group in 2004. He helped to launch and was the founding editor of AGL Magazine, the AGL Bulletinemail newsletter (now AGL eDigest) and DAS and Small Cells magazine (now AGL Small Cell Magazine). He served as host for AGL Conferences from 2010 to 2012, appearing at 12 conferences. Bishop writes and otherwise obtains editorial content published in AGL Magazine, AGL eDigest and the AGL Media Group website. Bishop also photographs and films conferences and conventions. Many of his photographs have appeared on the cover, in articles and in the “AGL Tower of the Month” center spread photo feature in AGL Magazine. During his time with Wiesner Publishing, Primedia Business Information and AGL Media Group, he helped to launch several magazines and edited or managed editorial departments for a dozen magazines and their associated websites, newsletters and live event coverage. He is a former property manager, radio station owner and CEO of a broadcast engineering consulting firm. He was elected a Fellow of the Radio Club of America in 1988, received its Presidents Award in 1993, and served on its board of directors for nine years. Don Bishop may be contacted at: [email protected]
After he was confirmed as an FCC Commissioner last August, Brendan Carr was asked by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to lead the agency’s wireless infrastructure efforts.
In his first 11 months on the job, Carr has taken on his job with a relish for meeting with the wireless infrastructure industry not from behind his desk but out in the field. Previously serving as general counsel of the FCC, as an attorney and as a law clerk, Carr has supplemented his legal knowledge with experiences in the real world, attending the opening of the new headquarters of Sioux Falls Tower & Communications; conducting a site visit to a cell tower in Noblesville, Indiana; witnessing a C Spire 5g wireless internet trial in Pelahatchie, Mississippi; and even climbing a cell tower in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
On Thursday, Commissioner Carr once again reached out to the wireless infrastructure industry traveling to the AGL Local Summit in Philadelphia to provide both a keynote address and to do a question and answer session with Bryan Tramont, managing partner, Wilkinson Barker Knauer.
He discussed the FCC’s two-prong approach to facilitating 5G through the allocation of spectrum and updating local infrastructure deployment rules.
On the spectrum side, he noted that the commission began allocating high-band frequencies for 5G back in 2016. More recently it has moved forward on opening up several more bands for 5G, including 2.5 GHz, 24 GHz, 26 GHz, 28 GHz, 37 GHz, 42 GHz and 39 GHz bands. Not counting 3.5 GHz.
“At the FCC, we have already assigned more high-band spectrum for 5G than any other country in the world — we’re more than four gigahertz ahead of second-place China,” Carr said. “And we won’t stop there. We are looking to free up more low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum.”
And more spectrum auctions are coming up this Fall, “We are full steam ahead on the spectrum front,” Carr said. “We do have good running room leading the world in opening up spectrum.”
5G Cannot Live on Spectrum Alone
Carr was quick to add that spectrum alone will not catapult the United States into the next generation of wireless. The FCC, which has exempted small cells from SHPA and NEPA reviews, is looking into the role state and local governments play in facilitating the deployment of next-gen wireless infrastructure.
The commission will look at compensation that states and local municipalities charge for managing rights-of-way and access to public infrastructure.
“There are real costs there. But that does not mean that government should view each deployment as a revenue generating opportunity,” Carr said. “The economic benefits for communities arise once we get our neighborhoods connected to next-gen networks.”
The FCC will look to update its shot clocks on local reviews of small cell applications, which were set up collocations on macrotowers.
“We adopted the existing timeframes before the spike in smaller scale facilities we’re seeing today,” Carr said. “So we need to make sure that we have the right review periods in place. Obtaining timely decisions is key to the timely deployment of new networks.”
The FCC will look at providing carriers more certainty regarding access to rights-of-way. State and local moratoria will be examined as well. In sum, the agency will attempt to bring parity between how wireless infrastructure and other uses of rights-of-way are treated.
“There are other important and commonsense guideposts that merit consideration when we discuss state and local approval processes, and I look forward to sharing more specific thoughts as we complete our review,” Carr said.
The starting point for the FCC’s review is the decisions that Congress has already made in Section 253 and Section 332 of the Communications Act, he said.
“Our job is not to work from scratch. We will look at the decision that Congress made and interpret them in light of the current deployments,” he said. “But we want to move forward aggressively.”
Carr has not found a lot of disagreement among municipalities concerning rights-of-way access. “Take the application process. The rates should be reasonably close to the city’s costs for processing,” he said. “Then there are other issues concerning the city’s infrastructure. What should the rates be? We are working through all of those.”
Exorbitant right-of-way rates will hurt communities that are outside of the major markets because they will reduce the capital available for infrastructure deployment.
“You have to balance the legitimate interests of the locality and the burdens on the rights of way and their costs for tearing up the streets. They have to be fully compensated, but there is some outlier conduct out there that we can address what will ultimately help all these communities,” Carr said.
Legislation streamlining small cell deployment has been passed in 20 states at the same time that reforms are being considered at the federal level, but Carr did not see any dissonance between the two initiatives.
“There is a lot of common ground between the two efforts to make sure that local rates do not make it uneconomical to deploy 5G,” he said. “I think it’s great to see the commitment that the states have shown to address small cells. My hope ultimately is that there will be a lot of common ground between what’s already been done and what we are going to be thinking about.”
Along with communicating with the wireless infrastructure industry, Carr has devoted time to learn the views of the municipalities, meeting with county commissioners and mayors, including an address at the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“Regardless of the policies we make, we need to recognize the important role that local officials play. We will take that into account going forward,” Carr added.