Jay Warmke/BICSI Executive Director
The mainstream media has, until recently, largely ignored our industry, and the general population has been blissfully ignorant of our existence. Let's face it; a structured cabling system is not exactly typical dinner table conversation, but rather a subject more commonly relegated to the planning phases of a commercial construction project. This anonymity, I fear, is about to change.
During the next few years, more and more homes will come to rely on a structured cabling system to deliver information, entertainment, security and comfort. When working properly, these systems will become indispensable to the lifestyle of the average consumer. When they do not work as promised, they will become a tremendous source of frustration and anger.
And when the typical consumer is frustrated and angry, the media and politicians take notice.
We have seen this in other industries, and I fear we may come to see it in ours. Now is the time to learn from others' mistakes-not five years from now.
Our industry is currently regulated by a loose hodge-podge of local and state requirements, most of which have little or no affect on the actual quality of service delivered. Left to its own devices, the commercial structured cabling industry has done a pretty good job of self-regulation. Credentials such as the RCDD (Registered Communications Distribution Designer) have played a role in elevating the quality of work, but most of the credit goes to a relatively educated consumer who does a fair amount of research before committing to an often-costly system.
This, however, will not be the case in the world of residential cabling systems.
It does not take a great deal of imagination or foresight to envision the range of problems that may occur as consumers flip through the Yellow Pages in search of a cabling contractor. The airwaves will be filled with exposes catching unprincipled or untrained cable installers who couldn't tell the difference between Category 5E, fiber-optic and coaxial cable if you put it in front of their nose. And trust me, the reporters will do just that.
A story relayed to me by an RCDD at a recent BICSI conference is likely a harbinger of things to come. This individual noticed that Home Depot is now selling Category 5 cable and cabling components. On a lark, he asked the clerk what the difference was between Category 5 cable and the other cables they offered.
"Category 5 cable is blue," the clerk responded with a voice of authority. "But you better be careful, paint doesn't stick to it as easily as the other categories of cable."
Clearly, an educational process is sorely needed.
Some will argue that the solution to this impending morass is to institute governmental regulations that limit the marketplace to only those who are truly "qualified." In theory, this would be a good thing. The problem is that history shows that carefully crafted regulations are typically designed to limit access to a marketplace (qualified or not) and protect against competition-not protect the consumer.
If consumers are to be best served, it is critical that they be made aware of their options. They must also have some easy way to determine if the professional they trust with this vital utility is capable and knowledgeable.
Now is the time for our industry to begin the process of developing a comprehensive training and certification program aimed towards this emerging (and inevitable) marketplace. This program should not only train those who plan to make a profession of installing structured cabling systems within residential structures, but it should also strive to make the consuming public aware of its existence.
Fortunately, there is time to get ahead of the curve before being overwhelmed by it. Governmental regulations will likely be a part of the solution, but an informed public and an educated workforce should be the foundation upon which this new industry is based.
Jay Warmke is executive director of telecommunications association BICSI (Tampa, FL).