Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), welcomed attendees at WIA’s Connectivity Expo in Orlando last week by recounting how the WIA won the battle to include wireless technology in the $42.5 billion broadband bill. Adelstein then focused on the fight the WIA faces to keep broadband technologically neutral in all the states, the inherent mobility and resiliency of wireless infrastructure and the leaps and bounds 5G wireless has made during the past 18 months through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic, as horrible as it was, showed us how much we rely on broadband. We kept the whole economy afloat,” Adelstein said — citing employees working from home, patients connecting with doctors though Wi-Fi and families being able to see each over wireless technology other during the pandemic. “All of that was done with the infrastructure you built,” he said to an audience at the Connectivity Expo, commonly called Connect (X), conducted in-person for the time in 18 months. The last Connect (X) with in-person attendees took place in May 2019, and the show was postponed twice because of COVID-19.
“Wireless networks kept up with all increased network traffic,” Adelstein said. “That’s because we invest $30 million a year in networks. That’s why the United States has the best networks, with the right regulatory framework, by investing in responsible wireless infrastructure. We want to make sure we keep that regulatory environment allowing for innovation in our infrastructure. We’re the voice for wireless infrastructure in Washington; we’re the voice for wireless infrastructure in the states.”
Featured speakers at Connect (X) (held from Oct. 4 to Oct. 7) included many wireless industry leaders, such as Jeff Stoops, president and chief executive officer of SBA Communications; Alex Gellman, chief executive officer of Vertical Bridge; Neville Ray, president of technology at T-Mobile; Rikin Thakker, Ph.D., chief technology officer of WIA; Marc Ganzi, founder and CEO of DigitalBridge; FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. Dozens of other session speakers filled a packed show schedule.
Adelstein talked in about the infrastructure bill under consideration in Congress, with $42.5 billion earmarked for broadband technology.
“We think the bill, as it landed in the Senate, ended up in the right place,” he said. “We started last year with too many policymakers believing all we need is fiber: a standard of 1 megabit up and 1 megabit down that intentionally excluded wireless, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. It came to a head in the Congress. I made the argument: Do you want mobility? Do you want resiliency? Do you want public safety? Fiber doesn’t trail the ambulance or the fire truck. 5G plays a huge role in climate change. Do you want to save the planet? Or do you want to have a 100 megabits upload that nobody uses? I made the case that wireless is more resilient — with a multiplicity of technologies. When a crisis comes, we have a technology that works. When a crisis comes, we have a technology that works.”
For Adelstein and the WIA, keeping broadband technologically neutral remains the key challenge.
“We should cover all technologies and let the market decide which one works best,” he said. “Let competition happen. Make sure we can have an effective disaster recovery. A flexible all-of-the-above approach is what we advocated, including fixed and mobile wireless, along with fiber. Fiber is great. We need it deeper into our network, but why shouldn’t it connect to an antenna sometimes? Does it need to go to the end user every time? And in the end, Congress agreed with us. It was touch and go, but our message really resonated. Negotiators rejected the 100 megabits up and down standard and instead they took up our call. They explicitly made the bill technologically neutral.”
A veteran of legislative and regulatory negotiations, Adelstein detailed the process of pitching the logic of a technologically neutral approach: “They made service at 100 megabits down and 20 megabits up eligible, which 5G can meet,” he said. “And they included language I suggested on speed of deployment.
“One thing that really works with politicians is asking: ‘Do you want to pass this bill before your next election — or after you’re basically retired?’ That’s how long it would take to build out fiber to every household in the country. We can get wireless to deploy quickly. We’ve done it time and get, even with shortages. I said we can get it done and that convinced enough to put it in the bill. I said one of the priority standards is speed of deployment. And one of the priority standards is resiliency, which we can win on every day of the week. So, I’m proud that we won, but it matters a lot because there was so much money — $42.5 billion — for broadband rolled out. We’ve never seen anything like it,” Adelstein said.
As Adelstein described the role of wireless in the infrastructure bill, the battle has been won but the war is far from over — especially when apportionment of funding disseminates down to the states.
“We might have won in the Congress if we could get them to pass a bill,” he said. “They have to worry about the states and how they apportion the money. We need to make the case in each one of those states that, again, we need to make sure that it’s technologically neutral in practice. Because the way the bill is written, there’s a lot of flexibility for states to do a little bit of mischief.”
The WIA CEO said his association is already hearing about states being focused on fiber only.
“We have a tight schedule ahead of and we really need you to make sure we don’t get disadvantaged again,” Adelstein said. “Because this is going to hit the ground in the states where you live and work. I think this industry can compete and win if it’s a fair fight to expand broadband everywhere. But: We need to make sure it’s distributed in a technologically neutral manner — and we don’t have states putting these trapdoors in there. We need to get the states involved and the companies on the ground involved to make sure we have success in state capitols. We have a good track record in state capitols.”
Adelstein said that, so far, 32 states have enacted small-cell legislation that fits the model that WIA had put together — with all of the association’s members, from carriers to infrastructure companies, agreed on a careful balance that expedites review of reasonable project and the rights of way but that also retains thoughtful zoning rules, including height limits and keeping things in the rights of way.
“I think that investment that our board has made, and it hasn’t been cheap having that many lobbyists, has been a major commitment of resources by WIA and now we have an opportunity to use that infrastructure to convince state capitals to make sure that wireless funding is included in the infrastructure buildout,” Adelstein said. “The states have already gotten $10 billion from the feds and if the full $42.5 billion comes, we want to make sure that we have ourselves included in that bill because we can deliver that service to the end user every bit as good as fiber. It has all the other benefits of mobility and resiliency.”
Mike Harrington is a contributing editor.
Dollar numbers associated with taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects reach into the trillions for everything Congress has under consideration, and settle into a $65 billion figure for broadband telecommunications infrastructure. Where the money goes has the effect of picking winners and losers in business, a normal outcome of federal spending.
Absent money that comes from taxpayers, businesses rely on money from investors, lenders and profits to spend on real estate, equipment and human resources. The way they spend the money makes the difference between success and failure, how well they compete for customers with others in the same line of business, and how much they can grow.
Focus for a moment on the tussle over taxpayer money for overcoming the digital divide, defined as the difference between having broadband internet access and not having it. From the perspective of educators, the digital divide has an adverse effect on students. Students without broadband internet access seem to number the most in low-income homes. Additionally, the digital divide is found in rural homes separated by long distances from the nearest internet access points.
For the first group, money from taxpayers or collected from telecommunications customers under government requirements becomes available to subsidize bill payments made by low-income consumers.
For the second group, taxpayer money would be spent with companies to build additional wireline or wireless infrastructure to extend internet connectivity to rural homes.
Therein lies a choice: Should the connectivity be provided by wireline, which mostly means optical fiber, or should it be provided wirelessly, which mostly means fixed wireless access? Should download and upload speeds be symmetrical and no less than 100 Mbps, which mostly favors fiber, or should it allow a lower upload speed of 20 Mbps, which gives more opportunity for wireless providers to meet the requirement?
Answers might become clearer later in September when Congress returns from recess. Shortly before it recessed on Aug. 11, the Senate passed a bill that included grants for service providers for 100/20 Mbps service. The bill raised the federal definition of broadband from the previous 25/3 Mbps service.
“We were pleased that Congress ultimately agreed to speeds that wireless can meet,” said Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association.
Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, had argued for 100/100 Mbps service. He said that, at least, the Senate bill acknowledged that the 25/3 Mbps definition of broadband was outdated.
Whom will Congress choose? Our prediction is an outcome that favors wireline, with a small concession to wireless. Many companies that provide wireless service also provide wireline service, so the outcome might not be as divided as it could seem.
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.
Congress should provide technological flexibility in broadband infrastructure legislation, given the role wireless broadband connectivity should play in the infrastructure legislation the chamber has under consideration. That is what Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, told an audience as the featured speaker at the Media Institute’s Communications Forum luncheon today. A membership organization, WIA represents businesses that build, own and operate U.S. wireless infrastructure.
In expressing the need for flexibility, Adelstein said he drew upon his experience overseeing the Rural Utilities Service agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Obama-Biden administration and the lessons learned when distributing broadband funding during the Recovery Act.
“The bipartisan Senate group is charting a course that will get broadband deployed quicker and bring mobility along with high speeds to rural America, a course that will win the race to 5G,” Adelstein said. “A course that will create millions of jobs and over a trillion dollars in economic development. Congress and the administration are now positioned to enact a program that would achieve its goals more easily than if it depended on a single technology. By providing needed flexibility, the bipartisan agreement will be more likely to garner qualified applications for more unserved areas.”
The association executive said that as wireless connectivity is built to deliver service more quickly, it provides mobility, it serves public safety, it fights climate change and it is resilient when disaster strikes. Adelstein said that the bipartisan group wants to address these urgent needs by letting wireless compete for funding.
“The lesson of the Recovery Act is that Congress can’t assume funding with narrow strictures will achieve its vision,” Adelstein said. “I learned as an administrator that the agency doesn’t choose who applies. Agencies can only consider what comes through their door, and should only fund those operators that are not only willing, but able to demonstrate a plan that is both financially and technically feasible.”
The U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) has approved two new occupations for apprenticeship training through the Wireless Infrastructure Association’s Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP). The new occupations are overhead utility installer technician and underground utility installer technician.
“Not only does this approval from DoL demonstrate that there is a national focus on the need to train for the jobs of tomorrow, but it also offers additional career pathways for those who want to enter the growth industry of communications,” said WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “WIA, along with the Power & Communication Contractors Association (PCCA), is committed to launching, promoting and expanding apprenticeships to support workforce development in our high-growth industries. With DoL’s support, we’re able to expand opportunities for underrepresented populations and support long-term careers to cultivate diversity in the workforce.”
PCCA President and CEO Tim Wagner said that overhead and underground utilities are essential to both the national deployment of 5G wireless networks and modern electric power infrastructure. “Our members excel at these endeavors and now seek to build upon our success by partnering with WIA to develop and further expand our workforce to meet growing demands,” he said.
WIA is leading a national effort to expand the size, quality and diversity of the telecommunications industry workforce with partner organization PCCA. DoL has recognized WIA as the national sponsor of TIRAP and as the industry intermediary for telecommunications apprentice programs. DoL is supporting these efforts with significant resources to expand WIA’s TIRAP program. TIRAP offers 11 occupations within its training program. More than 33 employers and 2,000 apprentices are registered in TIRAP.
Graduates of TIRAP apprenticeships receive national, portable, industry-recognized credentials that certify proficiency in specific occupations. The Department of Labor data shows that 94 percent of apprentices retain employment after an apprenticeship program ends and lists additional benefits such as reducing turnover, improving productivity, and recruiting a skilled and diverse workforce.
Smart cities and communities are quickly becoming a reality as municipalities look to provide enhanced public-safety services, sustainability and efficiency within transportation, energy, water, waste and other public services, according to a new white paper titled “Wireless Infrastructure as the Foundation of Smart Cities and Communities,” published by the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA).
The authors of the new report conclude that broadband connectivity is crucial for cities and communities to remain financially healthy and to provide citizens with educational and other opportunities.
“Faced with increased populations, cities are challenged to create more efficient ways to deal with the impact of this growth while being sensitive to environmental, economic and quality of-life issues,” said Jim Lockwood, CEO and founder of Aero Solutions, co-chair of ITC, and chair of the Smart Communities Working Group. “Connectivity and bandwidth are fueling a new gigabyte economy that will rely on smart services. Wireless and fiber-optics are key enablers of that connectivity and will play essential roles in creating smart communities.”
The white paper concludes that aligning government policies with network capabilities is essential to enabling the successful implementation of smart technologies, breaking down departmental and forming partnerships.
“Communities should adopt a forward-thinking and cooperative approach to accommodating infrastructure elements in public rights of way and on existing utility and other structures,” the authors write. “In addition, communities must heed a variety of regulatory guidelines and consider a variety of options to fund the buildout of smart city infrastructure.”
Members of the ITC Smart Communities Working Group who contributed to the white paper include Jim Lockwood, Aero Solutions; Don Bach, Boingo Wireless; Bernard Borghei, Vertical Bridge; Bryan Darr, Mosaik; Ray Hild, Triangle Advisory Group; Rebecca Hunter, Crown Castle; Keith Kaczmarek, inPhase Wireless; Ray La Chance, ZenFi; Jim Nevelle, Kathrein; Peter Murray, Dense Networks; and Sam Rodriguez, Aero Smart Communities.
The new research paper is available on the association’s Online Resource Library, which features a collection of white papers examining new wireless technologies and the issues facing the wireless infrastructure industry. Produced by the association’s Innovation & Technology Council (ITC), the reports cover a variety of topics and aim to educate industry, government and the public.
In addition to white papers from the ITC, the Online Resource Library features other materials created by WIA and its members.
To download a copy of “Wireless Infrastructure as the Foundation of Smart Cities and Communities” and other industry research please visit the WIA Online Resource Library at www.wia.org/resource-library