Biden Administration’s Internet for All Initiative Will Shrink the Digital Divide, Create High Quality Union Jobs
The Biden Administration’s Internet for All Initiative, announced today by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, will ensure that the resources in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be used as Congress intended – to bring reliable, high speed internet connections to every household in the United States while creating high quality union jobs in our communities.
As part of the initiative’s launch, the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. The notice lays out the requirements for BEAD-funded state programs, following the guidelines established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which, in a historic first for broadband funding, recognized the importance of ensuring that broadband providers and contractors that receive these funds must have proactive plans in place to ensure labor compliance and high quality training. In fact, fair labor practices are among the primary criteria for prioritization of projects.
“The BEAD requirements effectively address many of our concerns about the failure of past programs to bring reliable, high speed broadband and good, union jobs to rural and underserved communities,” said Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton. “Once again, the Biden Administration has made it clear that they are listening and responding to working people and holding corporations accountable for the way they use federal dollars.”
According to the NTIA’s requirements, states must consult with unions as they develop their BEAD funding proposals. Over the past year, CWA’s Broadband Brigade members have been sharing their first-hand experience and perspective on how legislators and administrators in their states can use the BEAD funding most effectively. “Our motto is ‘build broadband better,” said Fernando Roman,, Executive Vice President of CWA Local 7026 and member of CWA’s Broadband Brigade from Arizona. “We are eager to collaborate with states in developing plans to meet the NTIA’s requirements and achieve the Biden Administration's goal of internet for all.”
Highlights from the BEAD funding requirements include:
Recognition of the problem of low-road subcontractors in this industry. The requirements make it clear that federal dollars will not fund sub-par installations by fly-by-night companies. Subgrantees will need to provide information not only on their own labor compliance records and labor practices, but also those of subcontractors that will work on federally funded projects.
Recognition that a highly-trained workforce is crucial. Any subgrantees receiving funds will have to describe their plan for ensuring they will have an appropriately trained and credentialed workforce, including disclosing whether their workforce is unionized and whether their workforce will be directly employed.
Recognition of the importance of using public funds to deploy future-proof fiber technology. The NTIA defines Priority Broadband Projects as those with end-to-end fiber-optic architecture, explicitly recognizing fiber’s speed, latency, reliability, and consistency in quality of service. Fiber technology, the NTIA notes, will ensure that the deployed network can easily scale speeds over time and meet the evolving connectivity needs of households and businesses. NTIA requires the states to set cost per location thresholds high to ensure fiber is deployed wherever feasible, and its commitment to high-speed internet with low latencies will ensure reliable, quality service for customers.