The high cost of standards

The Electronic Industries Association, Telecommunications Industry Association and other standards-making bodies have adopted the expedient of publishing their draft and final standards documents through commercial publishers. Granted, this relieves the staffs and volunteer committees of such organizations of what must seem to them to be a peripheral responsibility--document publishing--and allows them to focus on the crucial issues at hand, the technical issues that call for industrywide consen

Arlyn S. Powell, Jr.

Senior Associate Editor

The Electronic Industries Association, Telecommunications Industry Association and other standards-making bodies have adopted the expedient of publishing their draft and final standards documents through commercial publishers. Granted, this relieves the staffs and volunteer committees of such organizations of what must seem to them to be a peripheral responsibility--document publishing--and allows them to focus on the crucial issues at hand, the technical issues that call for industrywide consensus and decision-making.

It should be the goal of industry associations to disseminate their draft and final standards as widely as possible. Circulation in draft ensures comments from the largest possible number of interested parties, and widespread dissemination after publication ensures everyone involved in an industry will have access to relevant standards.

However, the current situation regarding standards publishing does not serve these purposes well. The high price commercial publishers charge for technical standards discourages widespread circulation, and inclusion of copyright notices in the documents makes it illegal to photocopy them. A single standards document of interest to our readers may cost $50 to $100, or more. Even draft revisions intended for review by the industry carry high price tags.

These prices are a deterrent to the very people that such organizations as the TIA say they want to bring into the standards-making and revising process--cabling contractors and network managers. Small businesses and commercial data-processing departments most need to be familiar with these documents, but their high cost often means small-budget users must depend on the published interpretations and claims of vendors, who may be biased by the products they sell.

Standards should be in the public domain and available to all. Removal of the copyright notice might cost commercial publishers some money, but it would certainly encourage wider circulation of crucial industry documents.

On another topic, we have changed the Industry Spotlight. This column will now cover a series of brief, industry-related topics rather than one longer item.

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