Massachusetts telecom licensing bill stalled

The licensing of telecommunications installers in Massachusetts is shelved--for now. House Bill 2288, which proposed the licensing, had not made it out of committee when the legislative session ended July 31, 1998.

--Catherine Varmazis

The licensing of telecommunications installers in Massachusetts is shelved--for now. House Bill 2288, which proposed the licensing, had not made it out of committee when the legislative session ended July 31, 1998.

But the fight is not over for opponents of the bill because it will likely be reintroduced next January when the legislature reconvenes. The intervening period, according to Phil Milan, president of Neponset Telecom Co. Inc. (Boston) and the Massachusetts Telecommunications Contractors Association (mtca), just gives both sides more time to reorganize.

The mtca opposes H2288 because it would give the Board of Electrical Examiners jurisdiction over telecommunications professionals. "If we are to be licensed," says Milan, "we want to control our own destiny." The telecommunications industry is already being usurped by the electrical groups, according to Milan, who cites the example of nurse call systems. "Two years ago, the Board of Electrical Examiners placed nurse call systems--historically a communications function--under the realm of electricians. Nobody had died--there was no evidence of a system failure. In fact, these systems are among the most tested in the industry. They are highly sophisticated, microprocessor-based systems--they`re data, not electricity." Nevertheless, telecommunications installers are now prohibited from installing these systems.

The Rhode Island model

"When the legislature reconvenes," Milan says, "we have sponsors who will introduce our own proposed legislation as an alternative to H2288." The proposal is based on the telecommunications licensing law that was passed in 1994 in Rhode Island. In that state, the law recognizes four basic categories: data, sound, video, and voice. According to Jeff Deckman, president and chief executive of SyNet Inc. (Warwick, RI), who was instrumental in getting the law passed, "We wanted to create licensing that wouldn`t force someone to learn unnecessary information to be able to get licensed in his area of expertise. The technologies are really different, especially video and data, so we didn`t want to force an installer who only wanted to install video systems to have to learn about data. He can get licensed in just one or any combination of areas."

As a result of the 1994 law, Rhode Island has the only independent telecommunications board in the nation. Composed of seven members who are appointed by the governor for staggered, seven-year terms, the Telecommunications Systems Contractors, Technicians, and Installers Board has been "working terrifically," says Deckman, "because everyone has input into it."

The board represents all sides of the industry. It includes one member from each of the data, sound, video, and voice industries; another member is a licensed contractor in both electrical and telecommunications systems; one represents the electrical inspectors; and another is a member of the state building commission. "Members are union and non-union because we`ve always seen this as an issue of competency, not union versus non-union," asserts Deckman. Referring to the electricians` representation on the board, he says, "The electrical guys have a lot to offer. We didn`t want them controlling the board but we`re not opposed to their having input." The board monitors the activities of telecommunications contractors and technicians, prepares the licensing exam, oversees the administration of the exam, and serves as a hearing board for violations.

To date, 10 states have enacted telecommunications licensing laws, and the movement is gathering momentum. But even where the battle seems to have been won, opponents come back each year "to try to chip away at the law," says Deckman.

Nationwide push

The push to bring telecommunications installers under the jurisdiction of electrical groups is nationwide. "They use the same language and introduce the same proposals state by state across the country," states Milan. To respond to this pressure, a coalition of low-voltage organizations, called the Low Voltage Systems Alliance (lvsa), was announced last month. The lvsa consists of not-for-profit organizations in the alarm, audio, data, voice, video, security, and surveillance industries. Its charter is to share information about legislative matters that affect the low-voltage industries and to create and maintain a regulatory environment that is conducive to the growth of these industries.

Chuck Wilson, executive director of the National Systems Contractors Association (nsca--Cedar Rapids, IA), a member of the lvsa, says the alliance will work to create uniform language that can be used in licensing proposals across the nation. "We will create language that everyone can build on--a boiler-plate model for licensing requirements. The various industries can add a paragraph to it as it relates to their specific sectors." The lvsa will create a level playing field, says Wilson, which "would protect low-voltage workers from being legislated out of work, as almost happened in Massachusetts."

Information on the lvsa is avail-able at www.nsca.org under "Legislation."

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