Workforce development, broadband funding are WIA priorities

With just a little more than a month in his new role as president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), Patrick Halley has already pinpointed what he sees as the key priorities for WIA, which represents tower companies, small cell firms, and all the different players that make up the wireless infrastructure ecosystem.

Patrick Halley (WIA)

Halley, who previously was the SVP of policy & advocacy and general counsel at USTelecom, joined the WIA in August. He replaced Jonathan Aldestein, who left the WIA in June to join DigitalBridge Group.  

One key mission for the WIA, Halley said, is to help its members understand and navigate the many different sources of government funding available for broadband deployments and making sure that wireless broadband connectivity is not overlooked as a viable solution. Halley said that the wireless industry must overcome the perception that fixed wireless access (FWA) connectivity is not a sufficient broadband service eligible for government funding.

“It’s about what technology makes the right sense in the right place,” Halley said. “Fixed wireless access is a viable alternative. It’s faster to deploy and the speeds are competitive.”

One area where WIA can be particularly helpful is in working with local governments and municipalities to streamline the permitting process so that when the broadband providers get their funding, they can move quickly.

“Fiber and wireless need a cooperative relationship with the government. And that means access to poles, access to permits,” Halley said. “We need a streamlined process.”

The WIA has experience working with municipalities. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, many municipal offices were shuttered due to stay-at-home orders, which created problems for tower companies and wireless operators that were trying to move forward with their 5G network buildouts. The WIA and its members were able to offer resources to municipalities to help them work through these challenges.

This time around, Halley said that the WIA is concerned about staffing challenges at local municipalities because there will likely be an influx of applications for permits all at once. To accommodate this, the WIA is hoping to get some of the broadband funding set aside for government staffing to handle this surge in permits.

Staffing challenges and workforce development is another priority for the WIA. Halley touted the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program (TIRAP), which works with telecom companies, industry associations like the WIA, and the U.S. Department of Labor to develop apprenticeship programs for employers. Halley said that there are 78 employers currently participating in the program and TIRAP has placed more than 3,500 apprentices.

“We are focused on identifying different occupations and developing a career path,” Halley said, adding that a lot of people in the wireless infrastructure industry started out as tower climbers and are now running companies.

Finally, while WIA may be focused on the infrastructure part of the wireless ecosystem, Halley said that doesn’t mean that the group isn’t aware of the importance of spectrum. Similar to other wireless associations like the CTIA and the CCA, the WIA is advocating for more mid-band spectrum to be available for auction. “It’s really important that the FCC and the NTIA identify new spectrum bands for commercial spectrum use,” he said.