Digital Equity and Innovative Approaches: Connections to Digital Jobs

Digital Equity and Innovative Approaches: Connections to Digital Jobs

Posted on May 29, 2023 by Karen Stewart, Digital Access for All Engagement Team
Effective strategies are needed to prepare the future broadband workforce by planning for jobs that include increased pay and career pathways to ensure resilient, competitive, equitable communities. This is vitally important as we focus on improved economic outcomes and increasing opportunities for Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) persons who often find it challenging to find jobs with wages that can support a basic household budget.

This article features learnings from my interview with Jack Phillips, Vice-President of Regulatory Affairs at Frontier Communications. The goal of the interview was to learn about best practices to be sure that all voices are heard in developing programs and how equity and economic mobility are embedded in their work. We also discussed addressing economic competitiveness in underserved communities through workforce training, up-skilling, and re-skilling, and finally, we talked about unmet workforce needs for the company and strategies designed to recruit and retain a skilled workforce.

Mr. Phillips explained that the company is under new ownership with a new vision for operations in five states. Frontier's fiber program to enable broadband has plans for 10 million locations by 2025, and Phillips explained that they are halfway there. The company is focusing on adoption, equity, and low-income programs. To ensure that all voices in all areas of the state were given an opportunity to describe their needs, Frontier was a member of the Local Tech Planning Teams and helped to develop location maps and provide outreach to communities. Collaboration was fostered among diverse and inclusive leaders to gain insight into the digital divide and to enable access. One of the challenges is that many people lack trust in government programs and are reluctant to provide income information for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). Frontier worked with trusted partners, including schools and county departments, to carry the message of this critical program to underserved communities. 

We discussed the development of the digital / telecommunications workforce and strategies used by Frontier. The company participates in job fairs, conducts targeted outreach on social media, and places ads on messaging boards. For contractors building the system, diverse groups are hired at the prevailing wage for the area. The company also connects with workforce boards and high schools to recruit workers. Frontier provides apprenticeships, certifications, and on-the-job training, but a specific challenge in recruiting workers is the need for qualified candidates to pass the required drug screening.

According to information on Frontier's website, they believe in unlocking the power of diversity to drive digital connectivity and urge people who feel they can add value to apply. Frontier is committed to creating an environment where all employees can thrive as they learn, grow, and advance their careers.

Digital access and equity are imperative to the community's economic well-being as those connected can better participate in activities such as telemedicine, education, and work, creating increased economic mobility.

The disparity in access between socio-economic groups and racial and ethnic groups is referred to as the digital divide. According to the 2020 Regional Equity Report produced by the Tampa Bay Partnership, digital access in Tampa Bay is the lowest among its peer group of 20 regions across the country, ranking in the bottom quintile in all racial and ethnic categories. This data points to the continued need to strengthen digital access work that provides solutions for increased connectivity, access to devices, and learning critical skills that propel communities to full participation in the workforce and economic growth.

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