Telecom association resurrected in Massachusetts

A bill that would require Massachusetts telecommunications installers to be licensed by the state and report to the state Board of Electrical Examiners has resulted in the resurrection of the New England Interconnect & Data Communications Association. Originally formed in 1990 in Rhode Island to overturn a similar law, the group provides a unified voice for the telecommunications industry for implementation of fair and equitable licensing.

Sep 1st, 1997

Gail Leach Carvelli

A bill that would require Massachusetts telecommunications installers to be licensed by the state and report to the state Board of Electrical Examiners has resulted in the resurrection of the New England Interconnect & Data Communications Association. Originally formed in 1990 in Rhode Island to overturn a similar law, the group provides a unified voice for the telecommunications industry for implementation of fair and equitable licensing.

This is necessary, says Phil Milan, the group`s president and president of Neponset Telecom Co. Inc. (Boston, MA), because of the way House Bill H2288 is written. "However, we are in no way against licensing," Milan says. "But we do feel that the bill must be fair and equitable."

The bill calls for licensing of any contractor installing optical-fiber, communications, or data-processing systems. This not only covers the installation of system components, but also pathways and spaces. Licensed installers would also be overseen by the state examiners of electricians in accordance with Chapter 141 of Massachusetts`s law. In defining systems, the bill pools together voice and data cabling, optical-fiber cabling, and other power-limited systems, such as data-processing systems and lawn- irrigation systems--all under the heading of "systems."

It is this type of designation, says Milan, that makes him skeptical of the bill`s intent. This is especially so, he notes, because Chapter 141 was originally written in 1915 as the original electrical licensing law in Massachusetts. "The definition of a system is so broad, as is the language of the bill," he explains, specifically noting the inclusion of lawn-irrigation systems.

This is a point that Milan highlighted when he testified before the state`s Joint Standing Committee on Government Regulations last spring. "We take issue with why lawn-irrigation systems are in a telecommunications law," he told the committee.

He also questioned why a board of electrical examiners would preside over telecommunications licensing when it is a different discipline. "Although the industries are related, they are different," Milan stated. "Do you have dentists overseeing and licensing medical doctors?"

Milan also referred to Section 12 of the bill, which mentions grandfathering. As written, the bill could rule out installation by experienced telecommunications technicians, while permitting inexperienced electricians to be licensed. He pointed out to the committee that the section does not explain how future entrants to the industry would come in, and it references undefined examinations by the board of electrical examiners. "Who is to write the test? What criteria are to be used?" he asked the committee. "Electricians speak of megawatts and kilovolts, telecommunications professionals speak of megabytes and gigabits."

Other components of the bill include such items as a training provision that would require telecommunications cable installers to obtain an apprentice electrical license, and a clause concerning data-processing systems. This could be interpreted as requiring a license of anyone hooking up a personal computer to the Internet or installing a hub or router.

In his testimony, Milan insisted that the committee solicit more input from telecommunications professionals before signing this bill into law. He explained that the industry is an industry "unto itself, not a subdiscipline of another industry. We are an industry with our own trade publications, standards-setting bodies, training, and educational organizations."

He did suggest to the committee that Massachusetts`s lawmakers use a similar bill, which was used in Rhode Island, as a model for rewriting H2288. Under such a bill, a separate board would be established to license and oversee the telecommunications industry.

To date, the committee is still reviewing the proposed legislation. At the hearing, the committee appointed a subcommittee of proponents and opponents to organize an acceptable compromise. However, Milan says that the two sides have not yet been able to find common ground on some key issues, including the creation of a separate board of examiners, a definition of systems, a lack of provisions for self-providers (end-users), as well as several others.

Milan also notes that in the future, the association plans to change its name to the Massachusetts Telecommunications Contractors Association, or mtca --a name easier for legislators and others to recognize and remember.

For more information about the legislation and the association, call Milan at (617) 825-1919; Mike Sullivan, vice president, at (508) 687-9600; Steve Braga, treasurer, at (617) 625-1200; or Bob Powers, secretary, at (508) 393-1911.

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