Bogus-cable warnings remind of need for vigilance

An alert from Underwriters Laboratories and a white paper from the CCCA serve as reminders that the purchase and installation of substandard cable can have a steep price.

An alert from Underwriters Laboratories and a white paper from the CCCA serve as reminders that the purchase and installation of substandard cable can have a steep price.

by Patrick McLaughlin

An alert recently issued by Underwriters Laboratories (UL; www.ul.com) and a document available from the Communications Cable and Connectivity Association (CCCA; www.cccassoc.org) underscore the notion that professionals in all spheres of the structured cabling industry, including and perhaps especially installation contractors, need to be alert to the possibility that the cable they purchase and use may not be what it purports to be.

On October 12 UL issued a public notice alerting consumers, retailers, manufacturers, regulatory agencies and authorities-having-jurisdiction to the presence of four communications cables that bear unauthorized references to UL. “The communications cables have not been evaluated by UL to the appropriate standard for safety for the United States, and are not authorized to bear the UL mark or any reference to UL,” the notice stated.

One of the four cables listed is the one we wrote about in our August issue (see “Counterfeit cable is getting ugly,” August 2011, page 7). That cable has copper-clad aluminum conductors. Two of the other three cables in the alert also have copper-clad aluminum conductors.

One of those cables has the brand name Skylite Communications and is known to be sold through the website 1000ftcables.com, according to UL. The cable jacket displays the following information: SKCAT53-201 CMR UTP 4-PAIR 24 AWG EIA/TIA/ISO/UL E 302757.

Another cable is sold under the brand name MG Electronics. It jacket contains the following: UTP CAT5E CABLE 4 PAIRS 24AWG CMP RATED E310158. According to UL, the cable has been known to be sold through the site A1VideoSecurity.com and may have been sold through other outlets as well. UL’s notice does not state that the cable uses copper-clad aluminum conductors.

The other cable named in UL’s recent notice is manufactured by Zhejian Dongyue Transmission Equipment Co. Ltd. It uses copper-clad aluminum conductors and can be identified by the following markings on its jacket: SOLID CAT6 TYPE CMR 23AWG/4PRS VERIFIED (UL) E339724 550 MHz, 0380FT, ZONE ABCDEF123456789.

The cable we wrote about in August was purchased in February 2011, approximately eight months before it ended up in the alert from UL. This fact illustrates the reality that tracking down these bogus cables and scrutinizing them to determine for certain they are fraudulent, is a time-consuming task. No one can be sure how many boxes of these cables entered the marketplace, over what length of time, before this alert was issued. As a UL consumer-safety director told us when we interviewed him on the topic of counterfeiting in 2009, “It’s like asking how many counterfeit $20 bills are in your hometown. Counterfeiters don’t keep records.”

Liability eye-opener

While efforts are being made to prevent the proliferation of counterfeit, substandard and/or noncompliant cable in the marketplace, as a practical matter this type of cable continues to find its way into networks that rely on the physical-layer infrastructure to support business operations. The CCCA has led several awareness campaigns meant to shed light on the electrical performance as well as the safety performance of such cables. We have documented these campaigns in this magazine and at our Website, cablinginstall.com.

In September, the CCCA posted on its Website a white paper that it commissioned and that was authored by the law firm Crowell and Moring (www.crowell.com). The paper looks at the potential liability and other legal claims that can be made against a contractor if the contractor installs cable that does not comply with the National Electrical Code.

The paper begins by recalling the CCCA’s testing of some cable from offshore manufacturers, and finding that many of the tested cables did not comply with fire-performance specifications. The paper then discusses the potential liability that an installer of such cables can face in certain jurisdictions. Crowell and Moring examined applicable laws in the states of Connecticut, Florida and Virginia. Each state has incorporated the NEC into its building code as the rule of law. Therefore, a violation of that code is a violation of state law. The paper describes the potential fines a contractor faces, as well as potential length of incarceration, if the contractor is found to be guilty of violating the respective state’s building code. Crowell and Moring explains, “Any installed cable that fails to meet the NEC standards, whether known, apparent, or not, opens a contractor up to penalties for those failures.”

Then the paper discusses the potential for a contractor to face liability for damages in civil lawsuits. This portion of the paper focuses on three types of civil claims: negligence, fraud, and breach of contract and warranty. Here are some key quotes from the paper concerning each type of claim.

Negligence: “A contractor need not have actual knowledge that cable is noncompliant to be found negligent.”

Fraud: “If a contractor had actual knowledge that it installed noncompliant CMR or CMP cable but represented to a customer that the cable complied with the NEC or applicable building code, that could be enough to show fraud.”

Breach of contract and warranty: “Unlike tort claims, such as negligence and fraud, breach of contract and warranty claims do not require a claimant to be independently damaged—all that is needed is evidence that noncompliant cable has been installed that violates the terms of a valid contract or warranty.”

Social media response

A link to the Crowell and Moring paper was posted in an industry-related LinkedIn group, and prompted a discussion among several group members. The CCCA’s executive director Frank Peri joined the discussion by commenting, in part, “Industry response to the white paper and other information available on our Website has been very positive and gratifying. There will be more coming from CCCA to help navigate through the confusion and avoid non-compliant or counterfeit cable products.”

Another commenter had some cautious words for cabling contractors: “I’ve worked as an expert witness in cases involving telecommunications for the last 15 years,” he said, “and even though I haven’t had a case where counterfeit cable was used, I can say that in all of my cases the installation contractor is looked at as one of the guilty parties, making it imperative for everyone to do their due diligence. The U.S. is a very litigious society and the number of lawsuits increases during poor economic times.”

Another offered this insight: “As an end user, I’ve always specified the cabling materials used on my projects, but I’ve also expected cabling infrastructure vendors to be knowledgeable in the materials they are installing, so that they can be a second set of eyes to ensure a quality installation. Unfortunately, the end user can no longer assume that to be true. Given the current issue with substandard cabling hitting the market and the questionable practices of some cabling vendors (hopefully very few), it is up to the end user to ensure the materials being installed at their facilities meet industry standards, as well as all applicable codes for their projects.

“I have started collecting several articles referencing this problem, and have begun distributing them to our IT and purchasing departments to make everyone aware of the problem. I would suggest others do the same, as the quickest way this problem goes away is if no one buys or allows these products to be installed in their facilities in the first place.

“While I approve of any penalties the regulatory bodies may wish to impose on vendors who install this stuff, it is a reactive approach instead of a proactive approach. If both approaches are used, I believe the problem is solved more quickly.”

Patrick McLaughlin is chief editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance.


Alerts, certification directory help public awareness

The public notice that came from Underwriters Laboratories on October 12 was the third such notice issued by UL in a 12-month period. The organization uses these alerts to notify the public when it becomes aware of a product that violates the terms of using the UL mark. Sometimes the alerts are issued when it is discovered that a company with legitimate authority to use the UL mark has produced product that does not comply with the specifications that earned it the mark. Other times, alerts are issued when companies that have not obtained UL’s permission to use the mark use it anyway.

On September 6 an alert was issued about a communications cable that bears an unauthorized reference to UL. “The product has not been evaluated by UL to the applicable standard for safety for the United States, and is not authorized to bear the UL mark or any reference to UL,” the organization said. “It is unknown if this communications cable complies with U.S. safety regulations.”

The cable’s jacket includes a series of Chinese characters followed by “UTP 250 MHZ CAT 5e LAN CABLE” then another series of Chinese characters and “E189529.” The cable was sold on the Website nands.com.tw/.

On October 20, 2010 UL issued a similar alert about a cable not authorized to bear the UL mark but doing so. That cable’s jacket displays the following: “CAT 5E TYPE CMR 4x2x24AWG 75 C UL E308485 CAT 5E Tested to 350MHz, Lot #09111902.”

In both cases, the number of units produced and date of manufacture were unknown.

UL maintains a searchable online certification directory, through which users should be able to verify the authenticity of their products’ standing with UL. The directory allows users to search for products by company information (name, city, state, country, etc.) as well as by UL category code, UL file number or keyword. The directory can be accessed at www.ul.com/database.

In October 2010 UL announced it would begin requiring the use of holographic labels for communications cables. UL requires manufacturers of communications cable bearing the UL mark to use holographic labels on the smallest unit container in which the cable is packaged. It also required cable manufacturers to destroy all non-holographic labels. Cable manufacturers are allowed to print the UL mark on a cable jacket only when the accompanying smallest-unit container, such as a reel or box, also has the UL mark.

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