Certifying new telecommunications equipment as compliant with federal and foreign requirements to prevent radio-wave interference should be cheaper and faster because of a precedent-setting arrangement announced today by the Federal Communications Commission; the private-sector's American National Standards Institute; and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration.
Under the arrangement, NIST is recognizing ANSI as a qualified accreditor of product certifiers that approve radio transmitters, telephone hand sets, and other radio-requency and telephone-terminal equipment after testing to determine whether they satisfy FCC regulatory standards. Currently, 13 U.S. product certifiers are accredited by ANSI as competent to certify telecommunications products as FCC-compliant. Starting on Monday, June 5, these organizations-designated as Telecommunication Certification Bodies, or TCBs-will be able to compete for business generated by the approximately 6,000 applications for product approvals that the FCC now receives annually.
"This should result in faster product approval," says Art Wall, associate chief in the FCC's Policy and Rules Division. Although the FCC will continue to offer equipment approval during the transition to the new certification system, the commission anticipates that it will be able to devote more resources to market surveillance through random product testing.
To help streamline its approval process and to prevent delays that can slow the introduction of new products in the fast-changing telecommunications market, the FCC established the TCB program. The FCC identified NIST to accredit TCBs or to recognize an accreditor of these product certifiers.
Usually in response to obligations spelled out in trade agreements, NIST-through its National Voluntary Conformity Assessment Evaluation, or NVCASE, program-has been helping federal agencies organize product certification and related activities for ensuring that products or processes comply with U.S. or foreign requirements.
In December 1998, the FCC asked NIST to assist in establishing a process for designating TCBs, which, at first, would certify telecommunications equipment for use in the United States.
The FCC also anticipated that the TCBs would certify products as compliant with foreign requirements. In this role, TCBs would enable the commission to fulfill responsibilities under the telecommunications-equipment portion of the U.S.-European Mutual Recognition Arrangement as well as a telecommunications pact with members of the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation and a similar agreement with North and South American trading partners.
Rather than set up a new program for accrediting certification bodies, NIST chose to rely on the existing infrastructure in the private sector. It prescribed procedures and performance standards for recognizing organizations that accredit certification bodies offering services for telecommunications equipment. NIST then conditionally delegated to ANSI the authority for accrediting TCBs. Final authority required a formal review by NIST's NVCASE program, which now has been completed.
ANSI, a federation of industry, government, professional, trade, consumer, labor and academic organizations, accredits certifiers of products and services in more than 20 industrial categories. It coordinates the U.S. voluntary consensus standards system and is the U.S. representative to two of the world's largest standards bodies, the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission.
Last month, NIST conducted a two-day on-site assessment of ANSI's program for accrediting certifiers of telecommunications equipment. It also audited ANSI staff while they evaluated the competency of two certification bodies and their adherence to established international standards and NVCASE procedures. Results of the assessment and audits were presented to an evaluation panel of NIST and FCC experts. On May 26, 2000, the panel unanimously approved ANSI as an accreditor of TCBs. To date, the ANSI program has accredited 13 certifiers, which the FCC now has designated as TCBs. NIST's recognition of ANSI is valid through May 2002. It can be renewed, subsequent to formal NIST review.
"Under the National Technology Transfer and Advancement Act of 1995, NIST was directed to coordinate standards and conformity assessment activities with other government agencies and with the private sector," says Richard Kayser, director of NIST's Technology Services. "The FCC TCB program is an excellent example of NIST using the best resources in the private sector to assist government agencies with essential standards-related activities."
Designating ANSI-accredited product certifiers as TCBs "privatizes the technical portion of regulatory activity-the portion that is most resource intensive," explains John Donaldson, ANSI vice president for conformity assessment. "Creating the equivalent of mini FCCs with well-defined scopes of responsibility should make the system more efficient and more responsive. Manufacturers will now have choices."
The FCC notice listing the 13 ANSI-accredited TCBs was announced in the June 2 issue of the commission's Daily Digest. The notice is available on the World Wide Web at www.fcc.gov/Bureaus/Engineering_Technology/Public_Notices/2000/da001223.txt.
As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST strengthens the U.S. economy and improves the quality of life by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards through four partnerships: the Measurement and Standards Laboratories, the Advanced Technology Program, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Baldrige National Quality Program.
Additional Contacts: Hugh Van Tuyl, FCC (202) 418-7506, Stacy Leistner, ANSI (212) 642-4931