Monday, September 19, 2005

Small Business Fax Transmissions

In 2003, the FCC was proposing a revision to Federal law that would mandate all for-profit businesses to have express written permission from a recipient before sending them a commercial fax. Small business owners complained that faxes were an established marketing tool for many of them. The proposed rule change would have made it illegal to send unsolicited faxes to even long-time customers.

However, the FCC relented. In July 2005, the Junk Fax Prevention Act was signed into law. Among other things, the Act recognizes the "established business relationship" rule. Now, unsolicited faxes can be sent if 1) the sender can prove an established business relationship with the recipient, and 2) the fax contains a conspicuous notice on its first page enabling the recipient to opt out of any future faxes. Businesses must obtain fax numbers directly from the recipient, or from published sources such as phone directories, company advertisements, or the company Web site.

The phrase "established business relationship" is defined by U.S. law as having "a prior or existing relationship formed by a voluntary two-way communication between a person or entity" and a receiving business or resident. The FCC is clear on the length of the grace period allowed a business to claim such a relationship when it comes to telephone communications. Federal law stipulates that a relationship exists for no more than 18 months after a customer purchased a product or service, or no more than 3 months if a customer merely inquired of a company's products or services.

However, Federal law for fax transmissions, though, isn't as cut-and-tried, and is defined as a period "no longer in duration than the Commission believes is consistent with the reasonable expectations of consumers". Starting no earlier than October 2005, the FCC may commence proceedings to determine whether to limit the duration of the existence of an established business relationship.

All of this makes it next to impossible for start-up businesses to market themselves via fax. Existing businesses are advised to use their best judgment - I don't recommend faxing to customers who've not been heard from in years. Also, in accordance with the law, just provide a recipient with an option to get out of future faxes. Most people would be grateful to have that option.

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