Who will install your high-speed internet?
Brandi Stephenson leapt at the opportunity to help connect the unconnected.
Brandi Stephenson fell in love with fiber while serving in the United States Air Force. After learning how it transports information over vast distances, she worked on projects creating telecommunications networks for the military.
“I was actually really good with fiber,” she says. “It was exciting to build something from scratch and watch it work.”
As her service ended, Brandi started Googling ways to expand her fiber expertise. She discovered a fiber basics course at Cape Fear Community College in North Carolina run by SkillBridge, a U.S. Department of Defense program that aids veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce. After completing it, she jumped into Cape Fear’s next offering: The Corning Fiber Broadband Technician program, a week-long intensive training by Corning, the inventor and now largest manufacturer of fiber optic cable in the U.S., and AT&T, the largest fiber network deployer.
Brandi learned how Corning’s invention of low-loss optical fiber in the 1970s launched a digital revolution. Today, as the demand for broadband surges with 5G, the cloud, and record-high amounts of data-streaming, the need for quality fiber networks is greater than ever. Optical fiber is an ultra-thin, extremely flexible thread of glass that enables us to transmit information at high speeds across the room or across the world.
But installing those networks requires skilled workers – and in the U.S., labor shortages prevent essential infrastructure from being built. To build and deploy these networks, the telecommunications industry needs to hire more than 175,000 additional fiber technicians over the next three years.
“Through our industry-leading fiber and cable, Corning is helping to connect the unconnected and support unprecedented network demand,” says Bob Whitman, vice president of global market development for carrier networks, Corning Optical Communications. “But we need people to install it. That's where our training program comes in.”
The Corning Fiber Broadband Technician training aims to educate up to 50,000 American workers like Brandi over the next five years, both through direct instruction as well as a “train the trainer” initiative. The program equips people – especially underrepresented groups like veterans – with the knowledge and skills to design, engineer, install, and manage fiber networks. Enrollees learn hands-on techniques like splicing and connectorization, which are two intricate ways of joining fiber optic cables, and field construction.
“We went in depth, learning about a network from A to B – from the central office, all the way to person receiving their internet,” Brandi says.
Fiber networks are critical to bridging the digital divide, Brandi learned. The need is great.
In the U.S., not quite half of households are connected by fiber. Millions of residents in rural and underserved areas have yet to benefit from high-speed internet – a transformational force in the modern world.
The U.S. government has made “Internet for All” a priority, passing the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021. It provides $65 billion to help ensure every American has access to reliable, high-speed internet through investment in broadband infrastructure deployment by a trained, skilled workforce.
Brandi has experienced first-hand the benefits of an efficient, fiber-rich network. She’s able to attend college online, thanks to fiber-driven internet speeds. Recalling the sluggish internet of her childhood, she marvels at the progress made possible by today’s optical fiber:
“It’s insane how we went from dial-up to a little piece of glass that that carries that much information,” she says.
Brandi hopes to someday transition from mentee to mentor, eventually training others on what she calls “magical” optical fiber.
“I can’t imagine our world without it,” she says.