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Can State, Local Gov Use Broadband Expansion to Create Jobs?

The short answer, according to industry experts, is yes, it can. In fact, some states are already expanding their broadband workforces with the help of new federal and state government funding.

As a historic amount of funding comes down from the federal government to the states to expand broadband, industry experts estimate this will create new jobs, and there are steps state governments and other groups can take to support this growth.

In fact, some states are already proactively working on expanding their broadband workforce to meet current and future needs, while others have seen an increase in the need of trained professionals to help build out infrastructure. This work varies from state to state, and experts say there is still more that can be done to prepare and help meet needs.

The money for broadband expansion comes in large part from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which is in the process of delivering $65 billion aimed at ensuring that every American has access to reliable high-speed Internet while lowering prices for service to help close the digital divide. This money is being distributed via the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, which provides $42.45 billion to expand high-speed Internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs in all 50 states.

It's the deployment of this infrastructure that stands to create many new jobs nationwide.


Ohio recently announced that four training providers there would receive $592,215 in awards to support broadband or 5G-related credentials through the state’s Individual Microcredential Assistance Program (IMAP).

As part of this, Ohioans who are considered low-income, partially unemployed or fully unemployed can participate in this training program and receive one or more of the credentials for free. Once they complete the program, officials say they will have the skills, knowledge and accreditation to work in the state’s telecommunications industry, obtaining jobs as new or improved broadband infrastructure is built.

For example, after becoming certified, Ohioans could contribute to the state’s broadband deployment and expand its wireless broadband infrastructures as certified fiber-optic installers or power technicians.

“If you want to use local people, you’re gonna have to train them up and give them access to this,” Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said. “Let's face it, a lot of these folks don’t have the money readily available to invest in taking one of these training programs, so we take the risk out of it for them by helping to fund it.”

By doing so, Husted explained, it comes back full circle in the sense that it helps schools recruit students to the program and helps businesses get the talent they need to build out the state’s broadband.

“You can’t build it if you don't have people to do it,” Husted told Government Technology. “With the amount of money that the states and federal government are putting into this, the race is building the infrastructure; we have to build the workforce that’s going to build it.”


Ohio is certainly not alone in terms of states that are seeing an increase in new jobs due to broadband funding.

A study by researchers at the University of Illinois estimates that incoming federal funds will help connect 238,000 households in that state by 2026, with a related annual boost to the state's labor income of $843 million, creating roughly 25,000 jobs, some of which will be permanent even after the expansion is complete.

In Idaho, meanwhile, broadband funding has already been creating jobs. As part of the CARES Act, a pandemic recovery bill that predates the Infrastructure Act, some communities already have new funds for broadband. The Port of Lewiston, Idaho, for example, received a $4.5 million grant last month through the CARES Act to support the construction of a 95-mile segment of fiber-optic cable that will run from Moscow, Idaho, to Grangeville, Idaho, bringing high-speed Internet to previously unserved communities in the state. Local media reports that the grant will be matched with $1.1 million of local funds, creating roughly 120 jobs connected to broadband expansion.

The need for qualified workers to help build out broadband infrastructure is clearly growing, experts say, and so too must related training opportunities.


In addition to Ohio, Illinois and Idaho, experts say that as more states work on expanding broadband, there must also be an increase in specialized education to support these jobs.

Josh Seidemann, vice president of policy and industry innovation for the Rural Broadband Association, said companies are looking to hire more workers to build out broadband infrastructure — particularly rural Internet service providers as well as construction and engineering firms. As a result, trade schools and postsecondary educational institutions are beginning to offer more credentialing protocols for workers in this field.

“I’ve spoken to a number of companies, and they want to see someone come in with the credentials they picked up from formal postsecondary education,” Seidemann said. “There are other companies though that say, ‘No, we’ll hire people and train them on the job.’”

To oblige companies that do want credentialed workers, groups like the Fiber Broadband Association (FBA) are starting to offer programs.

Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the FBA, said, “What we’ve done in terms of workforce development is create an accredited fiber-optic technician training program that’s accredited with the Department of Labor.”

Bolton said that those participating in the program would gain 144 hours of experience in a classroom and laboratory setting, plus 2,000 hours obtained through an apprenticeship.

“When we have a shortage of labor coupled with a huge demand and lot of funding, there’s going to be a shortage of qualified people,” Bolton explained. “What we want to do is provide that career path for people to have a high earning salary with being highly skilled in a career in the fiber and broadband industry.”

Meanwhile, other groups like the Telecommunications Workforce Interagency Group (TWIG) are also looking into the issue of expanding the nation’s broadband workforce, but from a federal lens.

That group was formed in January as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act “to develop recommendations to address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry, including the safety of that workforce.”

The group is tasked with addressing how federal laws can strengthen the country’s telecommunications infrastructure across multiple sectors, identify which government programs can help expand 5G infrastructure and develop incentives to recruit a robust telecommunications workforce.

Once these recommendations are complete, the group will compile all the information into a report and submit it to Congress by January 2023.

“We need to think now about the workforce of the future and how we support skill development that will foster innovation and broadband deployment,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission during a kickoff meeting for TWIG. "We need expertise from the telecommunication sector, we need expertise in job training, and we need to consider equity quality and safety."
Katya Diaz is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in global strategic communications from Florida International University.