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Should your job require a license?


If you're a telecommunications "engineer," you may soon haveto be licensed by your state's board of professional engineers.

Legislation introduced in several state legislatures is redefining the livelihood for many professionals in the industry. Enactment of such legislation would mean that all people practicing telecomm engineering, or at least using the terminology in their promotion, would be required by law to obtain a state-administered license or face legal actions, fines and other remedies.

Pushing for the legislation are groups such as the National Society of Professional Engineers, which represents all engineering disciplines. Why, it asks, are certain telecomm professionals--in particular those calling themselves "engineers"--not state-licensed to practice their profession the same as architects and other professional engineers?

Let's look into this a bit further. About 18 months ago, Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Matthew J. Rinaldo (D-N.J.) Requested the General Accounting Office to report on state activities regarding the licensing of "radio and telecommunications engineers and technicians in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission's elimination of its own program for licensing operators of certain telecommunications equipment."

NARTE Concern

The National Association of Radio and Telecommunications Engineers (NARTE) expressed concern about state licensing statutes for professional engineers. For many years the FCC tested individuals who desired status as an FCC Operator, with designations such as a Class 1 or Class 2 Radio Telephone Operator. Professionals in the TV/radio broadcasting and mobile communications industries are examples of the type licensing administered by the FCC.

A change to the Communications Act of 1934, called the Pressler Amendment, permitted the FCC to sanction industry certification programs in certain jurisdictional areas. These included land mobile radio services operated by police and fire departments and stationary microwave communication systems Certification programs are administered by organizations like NARTE and the Society of Broadcast Engineers. This amendment was approved as a measure to reduce unnecessary federal regulations.

But concern was growing elsewhere. Within the engineering community, it grew regarding the presence of telecommunications professionals who advertised themselves as "engineers" but were not in fact registered as "professional engineers." Interested parties included state engineering boards and the National Society of Professional Engineers. Cases before several state boards of engineering for review. Some were dropped; others stimulated introduction of legislation changing the definitions of professional engineers.

New Jersey Law

AT least one state, New Jersey, has passed legislation (effective May 1990) redefining the criteria for qualification as "professional engineer."

So where's the problem?

First, let's discuss terminology. They key terms here are "professional engineer" and "telecommunications." At issue is use of the term "engineer," which is well defined by the states, in conjunction with "telecommunications," which is not. Specifically, "telecommunications engineers" should be considered the same as "professiona engineers" for licensing purposes.

After all, the logic follows, if telecomm consultants or engineers render services comparable to their licensed peers, they should be subject to the same rules and regulations.

Recently passed legislation in a few states, like New Jersey, has brought telecomm engineers (and by implication consultants) and those engaged in more traditional "engineering" pursuits under one umbrella.

Some Definitions

In the New Jersey legislation, the definition of professional engineering was revised. The definition reads: "Any service or creative work the adequate performance of which requires engineering education, training, and experience and the application of special knowledge ... to such services or creative work as consultation, investigation, evaluation, planning and design ... in conjunction with any engineering project including: utilities, structures, buildings ... telecommunications ... and including such other professional services as may be necessary to the planning, progress and completion of any engineering service."

Note that "telecommunications" also appears in the definition.

Here's how New Jersey defines the word: "As it is applied to the practice of engineering, subjects which deal with the generation, transmission, receiving, and processing of information bearing signals for the purpose of fulfilling a particular communication need.

"The most common forms of signals are voice, image and data transmission. Subjects relevant to telecommunications include but are not limited to: analog and digital circuits, propagation of electromagnetic energy through guided media such as a transmission line, fibers, wave guides, and unguided media such as free space as in broadcast and mobile communication systems, communication theory, including modulation, noise interference, and the interface with computers."

Sound like what you do in your practice?

ARguments against licensing of telecomm engineers have been articulated by NARTE. Three reasons for this are:

* Telecommunications engineering is different from other types of engineering.

* Tests in telecomm engineering are not offered by states.

* Telecomm is interstate in nature, effectively negating any state regulations.

Interestingly, two organizations contacted by the GAO in its investigation, the Society of Broadcast Engineers and the United States Telephone Association, were generally opposed to NARTE.

The National Association of Business and Educational Radio supported the nationwide licensing of certain types of technicians but was unaware of any attempts at state licensing among its members.

Here's one example of how our industry and its many specialized activities run afoul of the term "engineer":

Many of us at one time or another perform "traffic engineering." I learned it years ago, as did many of you.

The process defines the desired number of transmission lines required to support an offered level of calling activity with a specified grade of service.

Can traditional professional engineers, by definition, perform traffic engineering? Do they even know what it is?

Unfortunately, a damaging flaw exists in the definition of professional engineer.

The definition says an engineer "... requires engineering education."

That statement alone could disqualify many telecomm professionals without such degrees.

However, further reading points out that engineers must also have "... training, and experience and the application of special knowledge..." to perform their duties.

That's what many telecomm professionals bring to the table each day: specialized training, experience, and the application of special knowledge. Can this be sufficient to offset the former requirement?

Remeber back to the early days of your career. One of the unique benefits of telecomm was that you didn't need an engineering degree; you could learn the business literally on the job. Even with a Liberal Arts degree (like me).

Telecomm is a uniquely interdisciplinary industry.

Much more needs to be done, not just in education but in areas like professional certification.

Several attempts have been made to establish professional accreditation for telecomm.

Difficult To Focus

The Society of Telecommunications Consultants (STC) is an example of a national organization that has tried to establish certification for its members.

However, the board range of technical and non-technical disciplines addressed in telecomm makes it particularly difficult to focus on certifiable practices.

This difficulty in pinpointing certifiable activities within the telecomm industry makes industry professionals sitting ducks for damaging actions by assorted state legislators.

Further, close investigation of those involved in drafting and implementing this legislation will most likely reveal that they have total ignorance as to the true impact of their actions.

As a results, those of you in the consulting profession may check your mail some day in the not-too-distant future to find you're being cited for practicing engineering without a license.

Curiously, people working for telcos and carriers are exempt from the above rules.

Telecomm managers or members of corporate telecomm staffs appear to be exempt as well, even though their job titles have "engineer" in them.

Where do we go from here?

If any of these issues causes you concern, you can notify one of several professional organizations.

Contact NARTE at (817) 799-9661, and the Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI) At (813) 974-2695. The STC telephone number is (212) 582-3909.

More importantly, write letters containing your concerns to your state legislators.

Your professional livelihood is at stake: don't let it get legislated away.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:telecommunications 'engineer'
Author:Kirvan, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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