By Lisa Fazzini and Jimmy Tarlau
The writers are, respectively, an international representative from Communications Workers of America, and a former state delegate and former assistant to the vice president of CWA.
In June, Gov. Wes Moore (D) announced that Maryland will be receiving $268 million from the federal government to build out broadband to the unserved and underserved communities in our state. This would bridge the digital divide that makes it very difficult for many of our marginalized communities to connect to the internet at the necessary speeds. These funds are part of the $40 billion that was included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) that was passed in 2022.
This historic investment offers a once in a generation commitment from the federal government to make sure that all Marylanders have access to the fastest broadband speeds that are so critical for our children’s education, for our ability to work from remote locations and to keep in contact with our families and friends wherever they may be. But receiving these funds is just the first step. Now we have to make sure that this program is done right. We should all want a guarantee that it is built right the first time. We may not ever get another chance.
Right now, Maryland’s Office of Statewide Broadband is establishing a process it will use to solicit and evaluate proposals from the providers who will be receiving funds to connect Maryland residents to the internet. It is imperative that the Broadband Office prioritize proposals that will ensure Marylanders get high quality, reliable high speed internet service and that create good jobs for workers in our state. With hundreds of millions of dollars at stake, many companies that have little to no experience deploying high speed internet service in Maryland are looking to get a piece of the pie.
We, in the Communications Workers of America, know a great deal about broadband and quality internet service. Our technicians throughout the country install and maintain the fastest internet service in the world. We install high speed fiber glass cables that enable residents and businesses to download and upload tens of millions of megabytes every second. We have seen the impact of the digital divide firsthand and have been advocating for funding to address the problem for decades.
Here are the priority items we believe that are needed in a plan to deliver the best possible broadband service to the underserved communities of Maryland.
- Providers have to install fiber to connect Maryland households and have a plan for supporting customers and maintaining the network. Wireless connections, coaxial cable and DSL just won’t do. They do not provide the speeds and reliability we need for our connections today and in the future.
- We need providers to create quality jobs for Marylanders not to contractors who come in from out of state and take their money elsewhere. They must also pay family supporting wages and provide good benefits to help sustain the Maryland economy.
- We need providers with a record of fair labor practices. Our public dollars should not support companies that violate their workers’ rights through illegal labor practices.
- We need highly qualified, certified and trained employees on the job. This is complex work that poses risks for the workers and for customers if it is done improperly or without regard to health and safety regulations. In Missouri, homes were destroyed after contractors working on broadband installation hit a gas line. In Texas, an employee of a broadband contractor died of heatstroke after being denied proper protections. We need the best broadband build-out for Maryland and that will only be done with a skilled workforce that is certified to do the work.
- We need workers who are trained in the latest health and safety regulations. We do not need accidents on our roads caused by slipshod practices for setting up traffic controls that endanger Maryland drivers.
We strongly urge the Moore Administration to include these priorities as part of its plan to distribute funds to providers to buildout broadband in our state. These priorities align with the criteria laid out in the federal implementation guidelines for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and will establish Maryland as a leader in the responsible use of these funds.
Let’s connect all of Maryland and let’s do it so everybody in our state can reap the rewards of the best technology available for ourselves and our children.