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Fiber Optic Network Components Classified as Optical Instruments

Friday, October 20, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

In an Oct. 18 decision, the Court of International Trade upheld U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s classification of three types of fiber optic telecommunications network equipment as optical appliances and instruments under HTSUS 9013.80.90 (4.5 percent duty). The plaintiff had argued for classification as machines for the reception and transmission of voice, images, or other data under HTSUS 8517.62.00 (duty-free).

The items at issue are splitter modules, which enable single signals to reach multiple subscribers; monitor modules, which allow access to signaling and control functions to evaluate network performance and detect problems; and wavelength division multiplexer modules, which permit signals of two different wavelengths to travel simultaneously on a single fiber. Each model has connectors on the ends of the fibers and protective housings or jacketing over the fibers to ease installation. None contain any electronic components or electrical circuit boards.

The CIT states that optical appliances and instruments of HTSUS heading 9013 must incorporate one or more optical elements. The plaintiff argued that precedent dictates that an optical appliance or instrument must aid or enhance human vision, which these devices cannot do because they operate beyond the visual spectrum. However, the court said “optical” refers to not only to visible light but also the adjacent parts of the electromagnetic spectrum (i.e., infrared and ultraviolet), a point made explicit in the explanatory notes to heading 90.01(D).

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