LANSING, Mich. — The alarm industry will begin 2013 facing legislative battles in several state capitals where telecommunications companies have undertaken intensive lobbying efforts to pass laws that industry leaders contend undermine current licensing standards, mandated background checks, false alarm reduction and more.
Michigan, where AT&T is actively proposing new regulations, is considered Ground Zero in the wider effort to preserve current licensing laws across the country. In September, Senate Bill 1291 and SB 1292, sponsored by State Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell), passed in only a matter of a few days. The bills were sent to the State House where they appear to be on a similar fast-track trajectory, according to John Chwat, director of government relations for the Electronic Security Association (ESA).
ESA has supported efforts by Burglar and Fire Alarm Association of Michigan (BFAAM) to fight AT&T’s attempt to create specific licensing requirements for IP-enabled security systems in the state. If adopted, the law would effectively end existing statutes that apply to licensed security professionals, resulting in diminished installation standards, among other detriments, industry leaders say.
“The alarm industry is united in opposing a separate scheme for IP-enabled security systems. There is absolutely no reason at all for not adhering to the Michigan statues that already have licensing provisions in the state,” Chwat tells SSI.
At press time the State House had not yet voted on the Senate bills. AT&T declined to comment for this story via an E-mail response.
BFAAM is also getting support from other industry stakeholders, including Partnership for Priority Video Alarm Response (PPVAR) Executive Director Keith Jentoft, who is president of RSI Video Technologies. Jentoft recently spoke at a Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police (MACP) meeting to promote priority response. Jentoft says MACP members have expressed concern about any measure that could potentially raise false alarm rates or institute measures that thwart established means to control nuisance alarms, including fine schedules.
“Most of the chiefs don’t want not to respond to alarms. They want to respond. But if this goes through, they won’t respond. There is no way. This is just a way for AT&T to level the playing field,” Jentoft says.
Dean Belisle, president of BFAAM and president of ACT NOW Alarm Services Inc. in Clinton Township, Mich., has been at the forefront of fighting the legislation and educating the alarm installing community across the country. During the First Alert Professional dealer conference in Hollywood, Fla., in November, Belisle addressed a large group of dealers at an industry trends panel. He urged those gathered not to be complacent about what is transpiring in his state.
“We fully believe AT&T’s efforts in Michigan are a shot across the bow [of the entire industry]. We have had licensing since 1981. It is considered one of the stronger licensing laws in the country,” he said. “We believe they took us on first to get us out of the way before taking down other states one by one after that. False alarms are going to go sky high. Competency will be gone.”
Belisle also said AT&T’s legislative efforts include gutting a state regulation that currently prevents all felons from being hired to install security systems. The proposed legislation would allow criminals to be hired in the industry five years after a felony conviction. The proposed law also includes a background check provision; however, there is no definition of who does it or what constitutes a background check, according to BFAAM. Currently, all employees of the alarm industry must undergo a background check by the Michigan State Police and the FBI.
ESA has alerted its state chapters, as well as other association members and industry stakeholders that AT&T and other telecom giants are poised to duplicate efforts in Michigan in other state capitals in 2013. Among them, the Arizona Alarm Association (AzAA) reports AT&T has indicated its support for prefiling amendments to the newly passed Arizona licensing law, and Verizon has a bill pending in the Pennsylvania legislature to deregulate the telecommunications industry in that state that will likely be reintroduced in January.
“We have heard from our Missouri chapter that AT&T is prepared to introduce a Michigan-type bill which has chilled the Missouri alarm industry efforts to get a bill to license the industry there,” Chwat says. “And I have received notice of similar efforts from other ESA chapters around the country in which AT&T and others are very active. It is going to be a very interesting series of state legislative battles coming up in 2013.”