An ESP32-based board with wired Ethernet connectivity and power over Ethernet

Jan 29, 2019

Project update 12 of 20

Export Controls and Shipping Delay

Yes, I said we were shipping, but unfortunately nothing has been shipped out to backers yet. Here’s why.

The Story So Far

Exactly two weeks ago, I posted an update titled "We Are Shipping". We had worked our behinds off the previous week to do final assembly and testing of the units received from the CM, so that we’d at least make it close to the ship date (which already had been delayed once). The two boxes we shipped out arrived at Crowd Supply on Monday, January 14 for distribution to individual backers.

Unfortunately, that coincided almost exactly with a complete revision of Crowd Supply’s export control procedures, as brought about in part by their recent acquisition by Mouser, which has a much larger logistics system than Crowd Supply. According to Crowd Supply, there was a delay of a day or two while they adjusted their procedures. However, that doesn’t account for two long weeks. It turns out the real delay boils down to the fact wESP32 has been classified with an ECCN of 5A991.b.1.

A Primer on Export Control

If you’ve never before heard of ECCN, consider yourself lucky. ECCN stands for Export Control Classification Number, which is part of the US government’s Export Administration Regulations (EAR). A product’s ECCN determines to whom/where you can ship the product. Breaking these rules, even for a single shipment, can result in very severe fines and could even constitute a criminal offense. Basically, it’s really important to get this right.

Many, many products end up with a classification known as EAR99, which means it doesn’t have a specific ECCN, but is still subject to EAR regulations. In practice, this usually means you can ship the product to anyone, anywhere, as long as they aren’t on a special Denied Persons List (DPL) and aren’t known to be putting toward a prohibited use. As I mentioned, wESP32 is unfortunately not EAR99.

Sorry, Sudan

How exactly to classify a given product is the subject of hundreds of pages of dense government regulatory material. Luckily, I had help. So, after Crowd Supply consulted with Mouser’s ECCN classification team, the verdict is that wESP32’s ECCN is 5A991.b.1, apparently because it can transmit data faster than 90 Mbps. This ECCN falls under an "anti-terrorism" category, which, as far as I can tell, means the only country I absolutely cannot ship to is… Sudan. Now, I’m proud to have backers from 27 countries, but I’ll admit that Sudan isn’t one of those countries. Great, so I can ship all the wESP32s, right?

So Many Signatures, So Little Time

Well, kind of. Yes, all the wESP32s can in theory be shipped, however, because they are not EAR99, Crowd Supply must first obtain a signed certificate from every recipient outside of the United States. This so-called end-user certificate basically asks the package recipient to confirm they haven’t violated export regulations and aren’t on various US government blacklists, whether the end use of the product is civilian or military, and the final destination of the product. Each end-user certificate must be individually created and emailed for each customer outside of the US. That’s over 65% of all wESP32 orders. Even if you ordered a wESP32 for delivery within the US, Crowd Supply still has to check the denied persons list before sending it to you.

Next Steps

By the end of this week, Crowd Supply will contact you regarding your order. If your order is to be delivered within the US, this most likely means you’ll receive a shipping confirmation email with a tracking number (yay!), or an email telling you you’re on the denied persons list (boo). If your order is to be delivered outside the US, you will receive an email from Crowd Supply asking you to fill out, sign, and return an end-user certificate for your order.

I’m sure you backers are disappointed with yet another delay, and let me assure you, I’m just as disappointed after working so hard to make it close to the ship date. This whole process certainly has been a learning experience for me. It seems I’ve been setting my estimated delivery dates way too aggressively, mostly based on what I think I can get done. But in this campaign, first we had an extensive delay before the CM started building the boards, and now we have another delay related to shipping. I need to start incorporating these random third-party delays into my schedules so I don’t disappoint backers with unfulfilled expectations.

I would like to thank all you backers for your continued support and patience, let’s hope your rewards will be shipped really soon now! Crowd Supply has 200 boards in their hands. The remaining boards are back at the CM for rework, and I’m hoping they will get back to me soon as well.

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