Communications Workers of America to Arizona Commerce Authority: “We Want Broadband Done Right”
Union representing workers across Arizona calls on state to prioritize its skilled local workforce over subcontractors in upcoming broadband expansion plans
ARIZONA — The Communications Workers of America (CWA) has launched a powerful ad, encouraging the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA) to ensure that the nearly $1 billion in federal funding the state is receiving for high-speed broadband buildout goes to companies committed to quality, safety, and hiring locally.
“The Arizona Commerce Authority can make sure it's done right by only working with dependable companies committed to hiring highly-trained local workers, who provide quality service customers trust over the long run,” says William Cody in the ad, a CWA member and broadband technician based in Phoenix, AZ. “And that boosts our local economy with good jobs.”
In Arizona, an astounding 31% of households -- nearly 800,000 -- are underserved or unserved with little or no access to the internet, but President Biden’s Internet for All Initiative, the historic federal investment included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), will change that.
The state is receiving $993.1 million through the IIJA to build and deploy broadband, and close this massive digital divide. That funding is on top of $23 million Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs secured in the state’s budget to create the Rural Broadband Accelerated Match fund in anticipation of this award.
The influx of funding is also poised to create an extraordinary opportunity for a boom in job creation across the state. But with that comes fly by night contractors from out of state looking to make a quick buck who, as the ad warns, “aren’t invested in a quality network for Arizona.”
In order to ensure buildout and deployment is done safely, correctly, and transparently, funding must go towards internet service providers that have strong training and safety programs, provide high quality wages and benefits, and have proactive practices to ensure compliance with state and federal safety, labor, and civil rights laws.
CWA members are eager to work with the ACA’s State Broadband Office to ensure this unprecedented funding goes toward ensuring that residents across Arizona, including its rural and tribal communities, have access to equitable high-speed internet, which would afford them access to vital healthcare services, education services, and job opportunities regardless of their zip codes.
“Over 30% of Arizona households do not have access to high speed internet, limiting residents’ ability to access essential services, such as telehealth, and the opportunity to stay connected in the digital age,” said Susie McAllister, Vice President of CWA District 7. “This record funding is an opportunity to change that, but the money is only as good as the labor standards the state chooses to establish. By committing to a highly trained, local workforce that we know will build reliable broadband that will stand the test of time, we can also open the door to good, family-sustaining jobs for thousands of Arizonans in underserved communities.”
In order to meet these goals, CWA is asking that the ACA establish the strongest possible labor standards for funded projects and rigorously evaluate the technical capabilities and track records of the internet service providers who apply. CWA is also calling on Arizona to prioritize applicants that will use a directly employed workforce and require program participants to provide regular reports on the use of subcontractors, an imperative step for transparency and accountability.
Closing the digital divide has long been a priority for CWA members. Universal service, once the guiding principle for American telecommunications companies, has been eroded by decades of deregulation and the transition from telephone technology to broadband internet. This has resulted in a digital divide that has left thousands of Arizonans without the service they need to remain connected in the 21st century.
CWA members in Arizona and beyond are working with and advising policy makers on quality, safety and labor standards that will ensure communities reap both the technological and economic benefits of this once-in-a-lifetime investment for decades to come.