Licensing telecommunications-cabling installers

Members of the telecommunications industry have been asking with increased frequency: "Why license telecommunications installers?" These people argue that since the breakup of the Bell telephone system in the 1980s, the industry has enjoyed a competitive environment, and some believe that implementing a licensing program would re-introduce "Big Brother" to the industry and inhibit its currently competitive structure. In a perfect world, that argument would have merit, but the world is not perfec

Ronald G. Provost, rgp Consulting Inc.

Members of the telecommunications industry have been asking with increased frequency: "Why license telecommunications installers?" These people argue that since the breakup of the Bell telephone system in the 1980s, the industry has enjoyed a competitive environment, and some believe that implementing a licensing program would re-introduce "Big Brother" to the industry and inhibit its currently competitive structure. In a perfect world, that argument would have merit, but the world is not perfect.

Competition is not always fair and open. Some segments of the telecommunications industry are doing their best to carve out areas that they exclusively can serve. In fact, those self-serving segments have filed proposals with the legislatures of some states, asking that the states grant them what equates to monopolistic control over cabling-installation work.

The landscape of the telecommunications industry has shifted since the time when huge corporations dominated the marketplace; today, smaller entrepreneurial organizations conduct most telecommunications-installation work. These small companies distinguish themselves from their competition through experience, personalized service, and the value they add to their projects. They do not win bids based solely on their company names. It appears that the only way these small companies can remain competitive is to promote a fair and open licensing process in which applicants are assessed based on their knowledge and expertise.

bicsi (Tampa, FL) believes that licensing protects consumers. The telecommunications industry is like many others in that it can be confusing to those untrained in it. Consumers, on the whole, are not very knowledgeable about the details of a telecommunications installation--which often involves life-safety and performance issues that, if not dutifully observed, can negatively impact building occupants. Furthermore, telecommunications installations often cost many thousands of dollars. Yet, consumers are not always protected by any type of state-approved mandate for cabling installers to demonstrate expertise in their trade.

Traditionally, states regulate professions by granting individuals licenses to practice their profession or trade. Before the Bell system broke up, the telecommunications industry was regulated by each state`s public service commission (psc). Since the breakup, the pscs have continued to regulate telecommunications carriers, but the industry`s customer-premises segment has gone unregulated, resulting in a turf war over premises-wiring business.

Basics already in place

The principles of administering a licensing program are well-defined. The practice in most states is to rely on a board of examiners to handle technical issues related to the profession or trade being licensed. Therefore, the mechanics of a telecommunications-licensing program are already in place in most or all jurisdictions.

Typically, the board of examiners is made up of people actively engaged in the regulated trade. In some jurisdictions, non-affiliated representatives act as consumer advocates on the board. A representative board should reflect the makeup of the people that the board represents, but no single segment should be able to control the board. A well-balanced board might include representatives from large telecommunications organizations, small companies, and trade unions, as well as consultants and consumer advocates. No single party would dominate the membership in such an arrangement, and all board members would have to be active in telecommunications, with the exception of the consumer advocate.

Some critics have concerns about the cost of establishing a distinct board of examiners for telecommunications. But in Rhode Island, for example, revenues generated through licensing application fees have already exceeded the costs of administering the program.

As for actually establishing competency in the trade, states should accept claims of training or experience only when those claims can be substantiated. Proven knowledge in a field related to telecommunications should not be considered.

Installers can demonstrate competency by documenting years of experience and training by recognized industry-training organizations. The licensing process should include an examination, which should be limited to the scope of the license sought and reflect current industry methods and procedures.

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