The United States government’s attempts to create greater access to high-speed internet in the country have hit a road bump, as workers with the ability to install and maintain fiber networks are now in short supply.
The Biden administration has pushed for faster internet connections with its Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grants, which was crafted to help provide greater access to high-speed fiber connections through subsidies and discounts to qualified households while pushing more internet providers to offer high-speed internet plans to their customers. This ambitious plan aims to eradicate the digital divide within areas that have no wired internet connection by 2030.
But this larger push for the country’s internet connectivity has come with the roadblock of a lack of labor to install and maintain these fiber-optic connections as fiber splicers are in short supply even with the new influx of funding from the government, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
“It’s more than I can possibly do,” Brock Nichols, a fiber-splicing contractor from Arkansas, told the WSJ. “Right now, you could just about stand back with a dart and throw it at the United States and find work in that area. There’s so, so much going on.”
Per the report, the U.S. broadband industry has a workforce of 478,000, and experts like the Fiber Broadband Association and the Government Accountability Office project a need for at least 34,000 new workers by the end of the year to support the high-speed rollout plan. Some estimates suggest 805,000 new workers may be needed in the longer term to meet the expansion’s demand.
“As soon as everyone gets rolling on these projects, the supply chain is just going to get worse and the workforce is going to get slim,” Jimmy Lewis, co-founder of Cajun Broadband, told the Journal.
The lack of workers is prompting many organizations to look towards alternative scenarios to meet the needs of the situation, including more companies offering training and certification programs for fiber technicians or the consideration of using 5G wireless services to bridge the high-speed internet gap in places where the labor cannot meet the demand.
The Fiber Broadband Association even created an OpTIC Path training curriculum and program in 39 states to help potential contractors and fiber workers on their way to becoming certified. Even then, the future of the Biden administration’s high-speed internet initiative continues to be in doubt due to these issues plaguing it today.
“If labor access is prohibitive or even if just geographic conditions are prohibitive, we absolutely are going to need to evaluate how to deploy alternative solutions,” Andrew Butcher, president of the Maine Connectivity Authority, told the WSJ.
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