NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association was invited to participate in a roundtable event hosted last Friday in Gulfport, Mississippi, by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. NATE Chairman Jimmy Miller and Member Services Chairwoman Jordyn Ladner from Gulfport-based MILLERCO represented the Association at the roundtable, which was held at the Mississippi Aquarium.
During the event, Secretary Raimondo and Senator Wicker addressed attendees regarding their visit to the Gulf Coast, which included a tour of a local broadband provider. Following their remarks, Secretary Raimondo and Senator Wicker facilitated an industry roundtable discussion featuring NATE, business development leaders, representatives of the Gulf Coast research, fishing, and agricultural community, local elected officials, and the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
“It was an honor to join Secretary Raimondo and Senator Wicker by participating in today’s roundtable,” said NATE Chairman Jimmy Miller, president of MILLERCO. “Today’s event provided a valuable forum to shine a spotlight on the essential work that NATE’s members conduct on a daily basis deploying the wireless, broadband and public safety networks that enable connectivity in the United States. I also appreciated the opportunity to discuss the industry’s current workforce development and policy priorities with Secretary Raimondo, Senator Wicker and the other roundtable participants,” added Miller.
The list of participants at the June 25th roundtable included the following:
Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Commerce
U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, State of Mississippi
Mrs. Gayle Wicker
Jimmy Miller, NATE chairman, MILLERCO
Jordyn Ladner, NATE member services committee chairwoman, MILLERCO
Mayor Billy Hewes, City of Gulfport
Johnny Marquez, director of coastal policy & programs, Mississippi Wildlife Federation
Jeff Angers, president, Center for Sportfishing Policy
Tish Williams, Hancock County Chamber of Commerce & Partners for Stennis
Ted Kendall IV, vice president – Central, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation
Justin Ferguson, national affairs coordinator, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation
Yolonda Boone, owner & executive director, Innovative Solutions
John McKay, CEO, Mississippi Manufacturers Association
Chief Cyrus Ben, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians
Eddie Ayoob, Barnes & Thornburg
Keith Heard, Key Impact Strategies
John Hendrix, director of economic development, MS Band of Choctaw Indians
Gen. Joe Spraggins, Director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources
Kurt Allen, Executive Director, Mississippi Aquarium
Blaine LaFontaine, COO & Port Director, Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission
Dr. Kent Hoblet, Mississippi State University
Dr. Mark Lawrence, Mississippi State University
Vickie Watters, senior international trade manager/STEP director, Mississippi
Carol Harris, director, minority and small business development division, Mississippi
Mark McAndrews, port director, Port of Pascagoula
Ashley Edwards, CEO, Gulf Coast Business Council
Dr. Joseph Whittaker, vice president for research & economic development, Jackson
NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association has hired Kathy Stieler as director of safety, health and compliance, a new staff position. Stieler began her duties with NATE yesterday.
A compliance and safety expert, Stieler joined NATE after serving as director of installations and safety at Electronics Research Institute (ERI), Evansville, Indiana, since 2012. At ERI, her leadership was instrumental in managing the company’s tower crews through a safe and successful broadcast repack transition.
At NATE, Stieler will direct, develop and oversee general health and safety policies and procedures to ensure the association’s safety materials and best practices documents comply with OSHA, state and local regulations and standards. Stieler also will provide technical subject matter expertise to NATE member companies, as well as helping these businesses navigate the oftentimes onerous compliance onboarding process.
“Today, I get to embark on an amazing journey that will allow me to work alongside the NATE staff and to work for the association’s member companies whom I respect so much,” said Stieler. “I am excited and honored to have this opportunity to assist the NATE membership as we work toward our common goals to ensure the continued well-being of tower and communications infrastructure personnel, and to progress toward safer standards and practices within the industry. My passion for safety is well known by all who know me. I hope to pass that passion along to everyone as we work side by side.”
NATE Chairman Jimmy Miller said that with the establishment of the director of safety, health and compliance position, NATE is doubling down on safety and investing directly into its growing membership of companies. He said that he encourages member companies to use her expertise to enhance their safety cultures.
Wake Tech will rise to new heights this summer, becoming the first community college in North Carolina, and only the third in the United States, to offer a Telecommunications Tower Technician program. The four-week pre-apprenticeship program, which launches June 21, is part of WakeWorks Apprenticeship and includes classroom instruction and on-the-job training at Tower Engineering Professionals (TEP), a prominent Raleigh-based telecommunications engineering firm. It’s designed to prepare students for high demand careers developing our nation’s 5G infrastructure and moving wireless telecommunications technology forward.
“TEP is excited to partner with Wake Tech on this initiative,” said Andy Haldane, CEO of Tower Engineering Professionals. “This is a great opportunity for future technicians to gain a leg up on competition as they enter the workforce and for us as a company to attract and retain new talent.”
Tower Engineering Professionals estimates that the company will need at least 150 new tower technicians each year for the foreseeable future.
“We’re thrilled to partner with Tower Engineering Professionals on this much-needed Telecommunications Tower Technician program,” said Wake Tech President R. Scott Ralls, Ph.D., who participated in a practice climb on June 3. “This is exactly what WakeWorks was designed for – to bring new opportunities that lead to greater economic mobility for Wake County residents and a stronger workforce for our community.”
WakeWorks Apprenticeship, funded by Wake County, will pay for tuition and other related expenses for students in the program.
Training will cover safety, rigging, fall protection, principles of electricity, fiber optics and wireless technology cell components. When students complete the program, they’ll be interviewed for Registered Apprenticeship opportunities at TEP, where they will be paid while receiving additional training on the installation, maintenance and repair of cellular, broadcast, utility and public safety towers.
“The rapid evolution of wireless technology, propelled by the conversion from 4G to 5G, has led to a major shortage in skilled tower technicians across the country,” said Todd Schlekeway, president and CEO of NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association. “I get calls from companies in search of qualified technicians on a weekly basis. NATE views community college programs like this one at Wake Tech as being vital to developing a future pipeline of skilled technicians that are necessary to accomplish North Carolina’s and the country’s ubiquitous connectivity goals.”
Tower technicians in North Carolina earn an average salary of $51,000 a year. Ideal candidates are those who love the outdoors, enjoy traveling and don’t have a fear of heights.
The deployment of 5G infrastructure is estimated to require $275 billion in investment, adding $500 billion in economic growth and creating 3 million new jobs across the United States. In addition to NATE, the new program is supported by the National Wireless Safety Alliance, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprentice Program. Colleges offering similar programs include Aiken Technical College in Aiken, South Carolina, and Southeast Tech in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The Tower Technician program is among nine WakeWorks Apprenticeship opportunities at Wake Tech. Other programs include automotive systems, apartment maintenance and building & code inspector, EMT/paramedic, electrical, plumbing and HVAC. WakeWorks funds cover tuition and most other expenses for students accepted into apprenticeship or pre-apprenticeship programs. For more information visit wakeworks.waketech.edu.
Laurie Clowers is vice president of communications and marketing at Wake Technical Community College. Republished with permission from Wake Tech News.
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation known as the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act of 2021. The bill sets aside 10 percent of the net proceeds from spectrum auctions to be deposited into an FCC-administered Rural Broadband Assessment and Deployment Fund, to be used for building broadband networks.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Thune in introducing the legislation.
Under terms of the Act, the FCC must use the fund to establish one or more programs to address gaps in broadband internet access service coverage in high-cost rural areas. The federal agency also would be required to address insufficient funding of other programs that could adversely affect the sustainability of broadband services or comparability of rates supported by such programs. Further, the FCC must establish transparency and accountability requirements for addressing such coverage gaps and funding shortfalls, and it must report annually on the distribution of amounts from the fund.
NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, has its headquarters which is based in Thune’s home state. NATE’s president and CEO, Todd Schlekeway, said that NATE thanks the senators for their leadership in introducing the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act in the 117th Congress.
“NATE member companies are on the front lines of deployment, working on a daily basis to close the digital divide,” Schlekeway said. “The Association is proud to endorse this legislation that will ultimately provide an infusion of funds from proceeds generated from congressionally mandated spectrum auctions to promote broadband deployment services and communications infrastructure expansion.”
Christina Mason, vice president of government affairs for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said that the legislation puts forward a solid, common-sense and flexible solution toward eradicating the rural divide.
“We are encouraged by the bill’s focus on connecting rural communities to infrastructure capable of delivering reliable high-speed broadband, which COVID has shown to be more important than ever before,” Mason said. “Internet access helped America weather the storm, and WISPA’s 700-plus internet service provider members have proudly worked overtime to keep millions of Americans in the most remote areas of this nation connected during very difficult times. We believe no one should be left to compete in a 21st-century economy without access to broadband.”
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, said that existing programs like the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) play a critical role in helping providers deploy and sustain high-speed broadband in rural areas. It follows, she said, that NTCA endorses the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act because it is intended to to enable new initiatives and make use of existing programs to support the buildout and operation of broadband networks.
“If the last 15 months have shown us anything, it is that broadband connectivity is essential for daily life,” Bloomfield said. “When the COVID-19 pandemic forced so much of our lives to move online, NTCA’s community-based providers went above and beyond to keep rural Americans connected. But we have more work to do, and the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act would provide significant resources and powerful tools to help with the dual objectives of deploying advanced networks and sustaining high-quality affordable services across rural America.”
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.
The FCC made more mid-band spectrum available for 5G today, putting the 3.45-3.55 GHz band up for auction, as required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act.
NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association applauded the FCC’s approval of a second report and order that will promote the deployment of 5G wireless communications infrastructure.
“The association is excited by efforts by the FCC and Congress to make more mid-band spectrum available for fifth-generation wireless services,” NATE Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs Jim Goldwater said. “Additional access to spectrum, particularly in the mid-band range, will advance the country’s goals of expanding 5G while providing more deployment opportunities for our member companies and their hard-working technicians.”
The action also marks progress toward fulfilling Congress’s directive in the MOBILE NOW Act for the FCC to work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to evaluate the feasibility of commercial use in the 3.1-3.55 GHz band. Collectively, the 3.45 GHz band and the neighboring 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz bands represent 530 megahertz of contiguous mid-band spectrum for 5G. The action also sets the stage for another spectrum auction later this year.
Not Everyone Happy with FCC Action
WISPA was disappointed with some aspects of the FCC’s Order on the 3.45 GHz band. The association argued that applying the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) General Authorized Access rules and county-size coverage areas in the 3.45 GHz auction would have attracted additional smaller companies than the much-larger Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), which bring much higher bids.
“The CBRS model of spectrum allocation accomplished two important things,” Louis Peraertz, vice president of policy for WISPA, said in a prepared statement. “It brought 228 diverse, small, rural and urban providers to the table, over 70 of which were WISPs – something the PEA model cannot do. And, it provided 80 megahertz of licensed-by-rule, opportunistic use spectrum, which all can employ at far less cost than acquiring expensive licenses.”
WISPA thanked the commission for its efforts – especially those of Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks – to see if the CBRS model could have been applied to the 3.45 GHz band. The association recognized that the FCC was under statutory obligations to move quickly to start the auction and had to meet the NTIA relocation cost estimate that meant the aggregate reserve price for this auction had to exceed $14.77 billion.
“But we hope that the Commission will carry the CBRS model forward into other spectrum bands, such as the 3.1 to 3.45 GHz band, and we stand ready to help the FCC achieve this goal,” Peraertz said.
WISPA Asks for Smaller Service Areas in 3.45 GHz Auction
WISPA officials recently held ex parte meetings with FCC officials to discuss the agency’s Draft Order for Auction 110 of the 3.45 GHz band, which proposed a band plan that would auction spectrum in five 20-megahertz blocks, with each block covering a PEA.
WISPA recommended that the commission auction the upper 40 megahertz – the D and E blocks – by counties to promote greater participation by smaller providers interested in obtaining licensed mid-band spectrum for rural coverage. The WISPA representatives explained that the results of the recent C-band auction demonstrate that PEA-sized license areas deterred participation by smaller providers that do not want to acquire large, multi-county areas to serve one or two rural counties.
WISPA said its proposed approach would make 40 megahertz adjacent to the CBRS band available by county, with the lower 60 megahertz available by PEA.
“We noted that this mix of geographic areas would better enable smaller entities to bid for counties and larger entities to bid for PEAs as well as counties in areas where they desire,” the ex parte filing read. “This might, for instance, allow a large mobile carrier to tailor its auction strategy to target acquisition of more spectrum in urban areas where more spectrum capacity can help meet the demands of a larger population base.” For example, several large commercial mobile companies and cable companies placed winning bids for hundreds of CBRS PAL county-sized licenses.
With buildout rules at the PEA level, licensees can meet the proposed coverage thresholds simply by deploying in urban areas where returns on investment will be greater, leaving rural counties unserved for many years.
“If anything, the more aggressive buildout timelines proposed in the Draft Order will serve to further discourage rural buildout,” according to the ex parte filing. “By contrast, buildout rules at the county level will ensure that all counties, even rural counties, are subject to buildout requirements. We observed that the obligation to serve rural counties was not a deterrent to broad participation in the CBRS PAL auction – the results of that auction also demonstrated that auctioning spectrum by counties is a much more effective at encouraging deployment throughout the country as winning bids were placed in 3,220 of the 3,233 counties nationwide – more than 99 percent of all counties.”