The flood of funding coming down from the federal government to address the digital divide is spurring a range of broadband administrative hires in federal and state offices.
At the federal level, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told a senate committee in February that the department expected to make at least 100 new hires for broadband alone and to have one staffer at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) assigned to each state.
And at a recent senate hearing, Alan Davidson, head of NTIA – which is administering roughly $48 billion in broadband grant programs funded through the infrastructure law – updated lawmakers on those hires, saying the administration was halfway toward its goal of hiring a broadband point person for every state.
"Probably the most important thing that we are building right now at NTIA is a team of people, of federal program officers, who will be out in the states, in each state, assigned to each state, making sure that programs are successful and that providers can navigate issues," he said at the hearing.
Alan Davidson at NTIA oversight hearing on June 9, 2022.
(Source: Screenshot via Senate Commerce Committee)
But pressed for how NTIA is prioritizing which states it's hiring for first, Davidson indicated the process was driven more by available talent.
"I'll just be honest, a lot of it depends on where we're recruiting," he said, "so if folks know of great people in your state that we should be hiring, we'd love to hear it."
NTIA did not respond to questions from Broadband World News regarding progress on its new hires as of this writing. But according to its job listings, the government office is still hiring in "multiple" locations for a Broadband Program Specialist at its Broadband Infrastructure and State Coordination Division. (The application window was listed as open between June 13-June 21.)
That position, advertised at a salary range of $54,727-$80,532 per year, is for "recent graduates," with duties including providing "administrative support to the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) leadership team, including scheduling, tracking priority activities, and team communications" and managing "special projects to support BEAD efforts."
Related: NTIA chief defends broadband rules in Senate hearing
In addition to new hires at NTIA, states, territories and local governments are filling in their own broadband administration gaps as they prepare to tackle a range of BEAD and broadband-related responsibilities.
Such hires are built into the infrastructure law, which reserves $5 million in planning grants for states that submit a letter of intent to participate in the BEAD program. The NTIA announced last month that 34 states and territories had submitted their letter of intent to participate after the agency released its notice of funding opportunity spelling out the program's rules. (The deadline to indicate participation is July 18, 2022.)
While several states have been building out their broadband offices for years, others are further behind.
Both Arkansas and Oklahoma are currently hiring for the top job of Director of the State Broadband Office, in positions starting at roughly $150,000 per year according to job listings on Indeed. In both cases, the hire will be responsible for developing and implementing state broadband plans, managing the federal broadband mapping effort and challenge process, and more.
Broadband administration hires are happening at the local level, too.
For example, Cook County, Illinois, is hiring a Broadband Program Manager, reporting to the city's director of telecommunications. The new hire will "oversee broadband infrastructure programs and operations to the underserved communities in Cook County," according to the job post.
And in Maryland, the city of Baltimore is hiring a Deputy Director for the Mayor's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity (MOBDE): a new office created to "lead Baltimore's efforts to permanently close the Digital Divide and serve as Baltimore City government's primary liaison with internal and external stakeholders in digital equity," according to the job listing.
Building the 'talent pipeline'
As governments fill their ranks with employees to administer and manage grant programs, there's also a new push from the White House to ensure the labor force exists to build the actual infrastructure.
Last week, the Biden administration announced a new Talent Pipeline Challenge to support programs that provide skills training and match workers with infrastructure jobs.
In a fact sheet about the initiative, the White House referenced the BEAD program, noting that the notice of funding opportunity "makes workforce development an eligible use of grant funds, and requires a highly-skilled workforce, which can be fulfilled through use of graduates of registered apprenticeships or other joint labor-management training programs."
Among the training programs the administration is supporting is the Fiber Broadband Association's new Optical Telecom Installation Certification program (OpTIC) to fill a fiber technician skills gap. Initially launched with Wilson Community College in North Carolina, the Fiber Broadband Association announced last week that it was expanding the program with other institutions across the country.
"Our OpTIC Path program is developing the skilled workforce of fiber technicians that will be critical to support the significant increase in fiber network builds that are expected over the next five years," said Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, in a statement. "We are honored that these efforts are recognized by the Administration and are eager to grow the success of the OpTIC Path program."
— Nicole Ferraro, site editor, Broadband World News; senior editor, global broadband coverage, Light Reading. Host of "The Divide" on the Light Reading Podcast.