The Wireless Industry Association (WIA) has a range of activities planned for 2021, according to Jonathan Adelstein, the president and CEO of the membership organization, which represents businesses that develop, build, own and operate wireless infrastructure.
The association leader also reflected upon 2020, saying that it was a strange year for everyone as many people in municipal government and in private industry performed their work at home instead of in their usual offices. Those who lacked online processes or who were not ready to work remotely really slowed down, he said. He explained that in response, WIA, through its member companies that work with municipalities and with their national organizations, to address communities experiencing major obstacles and help them in a cooperative way. He said the association broke through many early roadblocks to get things back on track.
Municipalities have largely adapted to the coronavirus pandemic, Adelstein said, although they are not processing wireless facility permit applications as smoothly as before. Many have had budget cuts, and they are under a lot of stress, he observed.
“But we found that by and large, we are able to get these wireless networks built, and we are able to maintain them,” Adelstein said. “Municipalities are recognizing how important they are, particularly in the pandemic. It has been a year since wireless received wide recognition of how critical it is to everything people do. Ten years ago, when wireless had average throughput of 4 Mbps, you couldn’t have has Zoom calls; working from home would have been a disaster; and the economy would have ground to a halt. Wireless has never have been better recognized for the role it plays for emergencies, health care and education and business — the entire economy. It really spotlighted us.”
Adelstein said that the characteristic of wireless facility regulation in 2021 would change with a Democratic takeover of the FCC and the administration, noting that it will not have the same level of focus on deregulation as before.
“The good news is, we achieved most of our agenda during the Trump administration,” he said. “We got Section 6409 fixed. We got compound expansion through so every town in the country now has 30 feet, almost automatically, that they can expand to include public safety equipment or new collocation without having to go through local approval. Many small cell orders were done, and 30 states passed wireless facilities laws that were responsible and tailored. Now, we just have to ride that out.”
Although Adelstein said the businesses WIA represents obtained the regulatory relief that they needed, and he hopes for more, the Democratic-lead FCC will be more sympathetic to municipalities. “We will have to make do with what we have,” he said.
Compared with others, some municipalities “are much more willing to roll out the red carpet” to applicants for wireless facility permits, he said. “Municipalities are starting to recognize that if they roll out the red carpet, they get more investment. Regulatory obstacles make it harder to build out wireless service in their areas, so we we have worked with those putting up more resistance so that is more even. Wireless operators have limited capital expense (capex) budgets that they must use efficiently. Regulatory hurdles displace investment from some areas in favor of others, which is not ideal from either a consumer or an industry perspective. Municipalities with regulatory roadblocks will pay the price.”
Adelstein said he sees the potential for a huge investment in broadband infrastructure from the new Congress, pending an agreement among the Senate, the House and the administration. He said the prospects for a massive bill good.
Last year, Adelstein said, the U.S. Department of Labor (DoL) gave WIA grants and contracts for its Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP) that helps employers quickly increase the size of their workforce, train people with the latest skills they need, find federal support and incentive funding, and find state-level funding that offloads their training cost to some extent. With a multi-employer model, he said WIA gets many small and mid-sized companies and, sometimes, larger employers together to share training materials and training programs for apprenticeships.
“Apprenticeships improve employee retention, which has been a huge issue for our members,” Adelstein said. “New workers want to go to a business that offers an apprenticeship where they see a clear pathway to progress, where they’re going to receive training. Thirty employers have joined TIRAP, and they are seeing good progress.”
Part of the DoL grant has allowed WIA to extend pioneering apprenticeship programs to five community colleges. Adelstein said that if employers want to set up apprenticeship programs that can be feeders to the selected community colleges, WIA could help them do that based on the models the association is developing through its DoL grant.
“WIA also is conducting an outreach to underrepresented communities and to veterans working with Warriors4Wireless and other veterans groups in an effort to develop a pipeline of diverse talent, including more women, more minorities and more veterans,” Adelstein said. “The Biden admiration is seeking to expand diversity inclusion. We are hoping to find ways to fund the training of these individuals for our employers.”
WIA originally scheduled its 2021 tradeshow, called Connectivity Expo and Connect (X), for May in Boston. Adelstein said the association rescheduled it for August, in hopes that the pandemic may be under control by then. Referring to the coronavirus vaccine, he said, “You have to get your shots and come to Boston in August. We just want to be in Boston in August. I know we all miss each other. I cannot wait to see the industry get together again. We are seeing early enthusiasm. I am confident that we should be in good shape by then. We will have a sort of family reunion extraordinaire in Boston in August. We will get out of wherever we are, get up to the cool climate up there, and see each other again. It has been way too long.”
Edited for length and style, this article is derived from an interview of Jonathan Adelstein conducted by Martha DeGrasse for the AGL Connection series.