The high cost of standards-making

The American National Standards Institute (ansi--New York, NY) has in place carefully formulated procedures and comprehensive rules to ensure that standards-making bodies representing various industries in the United States are truly representative. The Telecommunications Industry Association (tia--Arlington, VA), as an official standards-making body under ansi`s purview, abides by these procedures and rules. Does that mean that standards-making in the premises and campuswide telecommunications

May 1st, 1997

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Chief Editor

The American National Standards Institute (ansi--New York, NY) has in place carefully formulated procedures and comprehensive rules to ensure that standards-making bodies representing various industries in the United States are truly representative. The Telecommunications Industry Association (tia--Arlington, VA), as an official standards-making body under ansi`s purview, abides by these procedures and rules. Does that mean that standards-making in the premises and campuswide telecommunications cabling industry is fair and just?

I think not, and the reason for this disparity is the same one that introduces inequities into the American electoral system. According to the Constitution, virtually any citizen in good standing can run for office, but the practicality of the matter is that it is expensive to do so. The same can be said of the tia`s standards-making process: Any qualified and interested member of the telecommunications industry can participate, but it`s expensive.

The tia holds quarterly week-long meetings at different sites around North America, with committee work going on between these sessions. The last quarterly meeting was held in Hawaii.

The very largest manufacturers of telecommunications cabling and components --those, perhaps, who stand to gain or lose the most money when standards are set--may have dedicated representatives who do nothing but guard or advance their companies` interests at these tia meetings and at those of the many other national and international organizations that set standards impacting telecommunications. This is their full-time, paid job.

Smaller, leaner companies may send representatives who take on this task in addition to a full-time technical, engineering, or marketing job. These people, like those of the larger companies, have their expenses paid by their employers, but they must somehow make up the work time lost to attending quarterly sessions, traveling to and from them, and doing the committee work in between.

The self-employed--trainers and consultants, for example--and those who work for end-user companies, such as network managers, have as much at stake in the standards-making process as the manufacturers, large and small, and they have a different perspective to offer--but they are rare birds indeed at these sessions.

Why? Money. One consultant and trainer to whom I spoke recently estimated that he spends $10,000 a year in out-of-pocket expenses to be active in tia standards-making, and this does not include the cost of lost opportunities--of work not done.

For years I have heard tia standards-makers bewail the fact that those active on their committees are not more varied in occupation and background, that the end-user perspective is under-represented, that it is the same small group of people who, year after year, continue to set the standards for a large and diverse industry. I have also heard one tia committeeman privately describe standards-making work as "an activity for the rich."

If the tia is truly interested in more-balanced representation in its standards-making activities, perhaps it is time the organization offered travel stipends to those competent and interested parties who are not supported by manufacturers.

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