Do-not-fax law a two-edged sword

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Oshkosh Northwestern (Oshkosh, WI)

With the perceived success of the do-not-call lists, another form of unsolicited advertising has come under scrutiny.

Mass faxes from companies selling computer parts, airline tickets and, ironically, fax toner have caused small-business owners headaches not just from the whirling and beeping of their fax machines but from the costs of the unsolicited advertisements.

“These junk faxes are clogging up the machines with unwanted commercials,” said Doug Heller, senior consumer advocate for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, a California-based non-profit advocacy group.

“One of the problems is these companies are advertising on our dime. While we’re frustrated with junk mail, those companies are paying for the paper and the postage. With junk faxes, we’re paying for the paper — we’re paying for toner. Our fax machine is being tied up while we’re waiting for an important real fax,” Heller said.

On Aug. 23 the FCC is expected to enact changes to the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which would require companies to receive written consent from a person they want to send a fax to.

The law is a relief to many home-based businesses around the country that have complained about their fax machines waking them up in the middle of the night — the cheapest time for mass faxers to send their messages.

But many organizations that depend on faxes to communicate have signed up with the American Society of Association Executives to oppose the new law, fearing it will obstruct the way business gets done by groups like the Realtors Association of Northeast Wisconsin, based in Appleton.

But there is no way to know for sure because the FCC will not say how the law will be interpreted until it goes into effect, said Debbi Conrad, director of legal services for the Madison-based association.

Penalties under the new regulations could be as high as $11,000 per fax.

The ASAE expect the rule to eliminate the “prior business relationship” rule that allowed faxes to be sent to people the organization has sent faxes to before.

As a result, organizations may need to seek prior written consent from members and non-members before sending any unsolicited fax that contains material advertising availability or quality of any property, goods or services.

Conrad said that also means if someone wants something as innocuous as an application for its next convention, they can’t just call and ask for a form because the Realtors association would need a written release to send it, said.

“It’s meant to eliminate advertising for vacation services or mortgages — those are truly unsolicited faxes,” Conrad said. “This is sweeping too broadly.”
Contact Nick Sargent: (920) 426-6632 or [email protected]

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