Fun fact: US Customs slaps eyeglass taxes on optical networking gear

Officials are overcharging us, complains comms slinger as it heads into court to scrap fees

A frustrated woman

An American telecoms hardware shifter is fed up with US Customs officials slapping extra tariffs on its fiber-optic tech imports – all because the agents are classifying the IT gear as eyeglasses.

ADC Telecommunications, which is part of North-Carolina-based CommScope, has urged a US federal appeals court to issue a summary judgment that will officially change the classification of fibre networking kit, so that the biz will no longer have to pay telescope tariffs on components shipped into the States from factories in Mexico.

The problem, ADC argued, is that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is taking the "optical" in optical networking a little too far.

Because the hardware pipes data as pulses of light through glass strands, the CBP treats ADC's value-added module line of networking gear as optics equipment, a designation normally given to things like eyeglasses or telescope lenses, rather than considering it regular computer network equipment.

This is an issue because the US tariff code calls for a duty charge on the import of optics gear, but not telecoms equipment. In short, ADC believes it is wrongly being charged fees simply because customs officials think optical networking has something to do with contact lenses and camera equipment.

The official designation was upheld by the United States Court of International Trade, leading ADC to this week take its fight [PDF] to the federal appeals courts.

"The threshold question that must be answered in this case is whether the products are 'optical appliances' or 'optical instruments' as these terms have been defined for tariff purposes," ADC declared in its paperwork to the appeals judges.

"Based upon clear and binding precedent of this [appeals] court, they are not."

To underscore their argument, ADC's lawyers pointed out that the networking gear doesn't have anything to do with typical optic devices – such as spectacles and camera lens – because its products don't even work with visible light.

"Each model of the subject merchandise operates on light having wavelengths in the range of 1260 nanometers to 1625 nanometers – wavelengths that are well outside the range of human vision," their submission read.

"The optical signals acted upon by these products are never visible, and therefore the subject merchandise is never used to create or enhance visible images."

Should ADC prevail, the biz would be able to move its gear from Mexico to the US without having to pay extra tariff charges.

We've asked the US government for comment, and will let you know if an official gets back to us on this matter. ®

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