Ensuring Good Telecommunications Jobs and High-Quality, Universal Broadband Deployment in New York State
Incorporating High-Road Labor Standards and Future-Proof Infrastructure in NY’s Broadband Plans
New York State has an once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure high-quality access to broadband for all New Yorkers and ensure good jobs in the telecommunications industry.
- American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) Capital Projects Fund, State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, and the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act’s (IIJA) Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) and Digital Equity programs have provided unprecedented funding for broadband infrastructure and adoption.
- The IIJA and 2021 NYS WIRED Act requires the ConnectALL office to preference employers with high road labor standards, high-speed technology and ensure prevailing wage, but specific proposals must be included to ensure this historic investment translates to future proof infrastructure and promotes good jobs, safe workplaces, and quality builds.
- We must protect against publicly funded outsourcing of broadband construction to low-road, fly-by-night subcontractors, which lead to significant safety risks for workers and the public while undermining wages and workplace standards.
Prioritize Subgrantees that Use High Road Labor Practices
Both the ARPA, the IIJA and the 2021 NYS WIRED ACT include requirements and recommendations in creating broadband programs. Incorporating robust high road labor practices ensures that broadband programs meet the federal and state granting agencies’ labor guidelines, and is good policy, supporting safe build, local workforce development, and quality infrastructure that stands the test of time. NYS should prioritize high road labor practices in their requests for proposals for broadband deployment, including:
- Directly employed workforce. The telecommunications sector is increasingly “fissured” or subcontracted, creating issues for service quality and workers’ rights. Localities can ensure accountability by prioritizing subgrantees that will use a directly employed workforce. This also ensures that economic benefit generated from broadband construction jobs stay in the community.
- Robust in-house training. Subgrantees should have robust in-house training programs with established requirements that are tied to uniform and progressive wage scales, job titles, and certifications or skill codes recognized by the industry.
- Quality wages and benefits. Creating good jobs benefits communities and supports a sustainable workforce and healthy broadband labor market in job functions across broadband deployment, installation, and maintenance, and customer support and sales. All publicly funded broadband construction projects in NYS must be prevailing wage.
- Locally based workforce. Prioritizing applicants that will use a locally based workforce as defined by certain regions or zip codes
In order to have a meaningful effect on a program, high road labor factors must have a substantial weight in a points scheme. If programs overly emphasize cost to the detriment of other factors necessary for program success, they create a race to the bottom among subgrantees that will ultimately result in decreased productivity and program effectiveness. Stakeholders should understand that effective labor practices are part and parcel with program effectiveness, and effective labor management is intertwined with the operational, managerial, and technical capacity applicants need to properly execute a publicly funded broadband project.
Transparency: Require Applicants to Submit a Workforce Plan
Timely construction of a quality broadband network requires a well-trained workforce. As part of the initial RFP process, programs should require applicants to provide data regarding their workforce plan, including:
- Training and Safety - For each job title that will carry out the proposed work, a description of safety training, certification, and/or licensure requirements.
- Job Quality - For each job title that will carry out the proposed work, a description of wages, wage scales, overtime rates, and benefits.
- Local Hire and Targeted Hire - Does the applicant have a locally based workforce or policies or programs that encourage career pathways for marginalized communities or the local community, including any programs for women and people of color?
- Accountability and Subcontracting - Will the workforce be directly employed by the applicant? If not, will the applicant subcontract the work to another entity? Describe entities and how the applicant will ensure accountability.
- Ongoing Maintenance and Operations - Does the applicant have an existing workforce to perform the customer service, home installation, and network maintenance work? Is this work outsourced? If so, describe the outsourcing arrangements.
Broadband programs should ensure ongoing compliance and monitoring of this information throughout the entirety of the funding cycle. The public can aid in enforcement when Workforce Plan information is made accessible through an online portal or website, and in a timely manner.
Prioritize reliable, sustainable, future-proof fiber technology
Public funds are most effectively directed towards future-proof technology that can perform well on speed, latency, and reliability. In the vast majority of circumstances, fiber technology is the best use of public funds due to its longevity and technical advantages. Policymakers should educate themselves on the different broadband delivery technologies in order to meaningfully engage with industry claims. For example, while industry might highlight the lower up-front cost of fixed wireless over fiber, the total cost of ownership over 30 years is comparable, with fiber providing a much higher quality service. Fiber is also a sustainable and renewable choice. It offers lower energy consumption with greater capacity, predictable performance, lower maintenance costs due to fewer truck rolls, and a longer technological lifetime than other technologies.
Please reach out!
Communications Workers of America (CWA) members are experienced broadband technicians, as well as community leaders who believe in digital equity and high speed broadband for all. Our local leaders are eager to collaborate and serve as a resource for the State and localities as you work to ensure universal access to broadband for your residents.