Smart Building

The Importance of Using Clear Language to Clarify the Work of Integrators and Installers

Ron Tellas

Many U.S. states are proposing legislation that could limit an integrator’s ability to legally do work they’re most likely qualified to do. And small changes in legislative language can make a big difference in determining who may be able to install certain technologies, including Power over Ethernet, 5G and IP-enabled building automation.

This past year, I represented Belden as part of the Connected Technologies Industry Consortium. This thinktank is made up of 15+ global trade organizations and industry leaders from organizations like BICSI, the Communications Cable & Connectivity Association (CCCA), the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), NSCA, the Security Industry Association (SIA), the Electronic Security Association (ESA) and TIA: experts in emerging technology, codes and standards, and government affairs. 

One of our goals is to monitor and defend against language in state-level legislation involving Power over Ethernet, low-voltage lighting, alarm/security systems and network-connected devices that might hinder an integrator’s ability to do their work.

To prepare for 2021 legislative sessions, the Connected Technologies Industry Consortium gathered virtually in October and discussed what we expect in the year ahead.

During these conversations, we agreed as a group that, by referring to low-voltage installers or integrators as “power-limited systems integrators,” we can help unify the workforce under one occupational trade name and strengthen the industry occupation classification. (This information is managed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for use in collecting statistical information on occupations.) When our industry comes together in this way and uses the same language, it’s easier to convey the impact of state-level legislation.

Why “Low-Voltage Installer” Verbiage is Causing Confusion

Although the term “low-voltage installer” has been used for several years, this phrasing may incorrectly imply that low-voltage installers serve as a subset of an electrical contractor—and also imply a specific voltage level associated with the work. Integrators or low-voltage installers aren’t trained or licensed to perform work that involves installing wiring connected to the power grid or circuit breaker box. That work is solely the responsibility of a licensed electrician on every jobsite.

This past year, for example, MD HB 1127 (the Maryland Electricians Act of 2020) would have established a low-voltage electrician license as a state license to be awarded to qualifying electricians, limiting an electrical license for communication systems with voltages of less than 50V and AV systems with voltages of less than 70V. Because Power over Ethernet has a maximum voltage of 57V, an uninformed interpretation of this bill could have prevented installers from installing category cabling to power endpoint devices. It was a problem of communication and interpretation.

Using the term “power-limited systems integrator” to describe the work of an installer or integrator in our industry makes it much clearer. It also eliminates the semantics of words like “voltage” and “electrician,” which perpetuate confusion.

In terms of the Maryland bill, several members of the Connected Technologies Industry Consortium joined the workgroup to share our concerns about language that could be read to exclude integrators from what they work on today. The workgroup did not reach consensus on what the recommended bill should say, but we were able to let the voice of power-limited systems integrators be heard (and offered assistance in the future).

Do Your Part to Support the Industry

Belden supports the work and mission of the Connected Technologies Industry Consortium as we monitor legislation that could negatively impact power-limited systems integrators. We all play a vital role in this industry … and we all need to act as eyes and ears, on the lookout for changes in our local area that may impact permitting, ordinances, licensure, regulations or code compliance. 

To do this, it’s important to stay engaged with trade associations like AVIXA, BICSI, CEDIA and NSCA. NSCA even has an online tool that lets you track legislation in real time across all 50 U.S. states.

Attend local town hall meetings and know your legislative leaders. Remember: Although it’s important for you to know your legislators, it’s even more important that they know who you are and what you do. Make sure you provide your input and perspective on how regulations may impact the adoption of technology.