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Thune: Building a 5G Workforce is Critical to Nationwide Deployment

Washington — 

Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today discussed new 5G workforce legislation that he will introduce later today with a bipartisan group of his colleagues. The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act would help increase the number of workers enrolled in 5G training programs and identify ways to grow the telecommunications workforce to help the United States win the race to 5G. This legislation is part of Thune’s broader effort to continue laying the groundwork for nationwide 5G deployment.

Click here to watch Thune’s speech.

Thune’s remarks below (as prepared for delivery): 

“Mr. President, most of us think today’s internet is pretty fast.

“We receive traffic updates basically in real time, get emails within a second or two, and stream our favorite shows whenever – and wherever – we want.

“But as advanced as today’s internet is, the next generation of internet – 5G – will make 4G look like dial-up.

“For instance, 5G mobile broadband technology will deliver speeds that are up to 100 times faster than what today’s technology can deliver.

“It will be vastly more responsive than 4G technology, and it will be able to connect 100 times the number of devices that can be connected with 4G.

“And while that will make it even easier to do the things we do today, like check our email or stream our favorite shows, the biggest benefits of 5G lie in the other technologies it will enable – precision agriculture, medical and surgical innovations, safer vehicles, and much more.

“The technology for 5G is already here.

“But there’s more work to be done to get to nationwide 5G deployment.

“And a key part of getting to that point is developing the workforce that will be required to install and maintain the 5G network.

“Current internet technology relies on cell phone towers.

“But 5G technology will require not just traditional cell phone towers, but small antennas called “small cells” that can often be attached to existing infrastructure like utility poles or buildings.

“Wireless providers will need to install roughly 800,000 small cells around the nation to support a nationwide 5G network.

“And of course, after installation, every one of those small cells will have to be monitored and maintained.

“That will require a substantial increase in the telecommunications workforce.

“It’s estimated that deploying the necessary infrastructure for 5G will create approximately 50,000 new construction jobs each year over the buildout period.

“And that’s just for construction.

“Right now, there simply aren’t enough workers with the necessary training to meet the needs of nationwide 5G.

“Industry and community colleges have both stepped forward to provide training opportunities, but more work needs to be done if the United States wants to step forward into the 5G future.

“As past chairman of the Commerce Committee and current chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, 5G has been a big priority of mine.

“I’ve spent a lot of time focused on advancing 5G deployment, especially to rural states like my home state of South Dakota.

“I was very proud to be in Sioux Falls a few months ago when the city unveiled one of the first 5G networks in the country.

“In 2018, the president signed into law legislation I developed to increase access to critical spectrum, and I’ve also introduced legislation to facilitate small cell deployment, especially in rural areas.

“Today, I’m introducing legislation to address the other part of the 5G equation – creating a large-enough workforce to deploy and maintain all those small cells.

“As I said, industry and community colleges have both stepped forward to provide programs to train workers.

“Places like VIKOR Teleconstruction and Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls are already helping to train the 5G workforce of the future.

“But more work needs to be done.

“My Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Act would help increase the number of workers enrolled in 5G training programs and identify ways to grow the telecommunications workforce to meet the demands of 5G.

“My bill would require the Department of Labor to bring together our federal partners as well as individuals on the ground deploying next-generation telecommunications services.

“The resulting working group would be required to identify any current laws or regulations that are making it difficult for educational institutions and businesses to establish programs to help meet the workforce needs of the telecom industry.

“It would also be required to identify existing federal programs that could be used to help address workforce shortages as well as ways the federal government could encourage or incentivize growth in the telecommunications workforce, including the deployment of fixed broadband in our rural areas.

“My bill would also direct the Department of Labor and the Federal Communications Commission to issue guidance for states to help them leverage existing federal resources for growing their telecommunications workforces – and to help them improve recruitment for industry-led telecommunications development programs like the Wireless Infrastructure Association’s Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program.

“I appreciate my colleagues Senators Tester, Moran, and Peters for partnering with me on this bill.

“Mr. President, getting to 5G in the near future is important for our whole country – both economically and for the advances it will bring in fields like medicine and auto safety – which is why it’s been a major priority of mine over the past few years.

“And I’m particularly motivated by the benefits 5G could bring to my home state of South Dakota. 

“The ability to deploy precision agriculture on a wide scale would have huge benefits for South Dakota farmers.

“And better access to telemedicine could bring better health care to thousands of residents in my home state and other rural areas.

“But to get these benefits, we have to ensure that telecommunications companies are able to find the workers they need.

“I hope we can quickly advance this legislation so that the United States can continue her march into the 5G future.” 

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