Marketers fight fax regulations

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Trade groups are petitioning the Federal Communications Commission to overturn its recently adopted restrictions on unsolicited commercial faxing, claiming they will hamper companies’ ability to market to customers.

The new fax regulations were among the Telephone Consumer Protection Act amendments the FCC adopted in June, which included provisions establishing the telemarketing do-not-call registry. While many businesses were preoccupied with the do-not-call rules, the fax regulations went largely unnoticed.

"It was literally drowned out by the telemarketing aspect," said Dan Rumelt, a spokesman with the FCC in Washington. However, he said, the decision to adopt all the provisions was based on comments collected over several months from almost 7,000 businesses and consumers.

The rules, which are to take effect Aug. 25, require companies to have written permission from recipients in order to transmit faxes. Most troubling to the business community is wording stating the "established business relationship" exception (which was in the original Telephone Consumer Protection Act, adopted in 1991) no longer applies. This could have a big impact on companies that use faxes for marketing purposes. Failure to comply will carry an $11,000 fine per violation.

Should b-to-b be exempt?

Some say the new restrictions should not apply in a b-to-b relationship.

"It’s completely different from the telemarketing rules, which are aimed at protecting consumers in their homes and people being able to stop those calls through the do-not-call registry," said Jeff Tenenbaum, a partner at law firm Venable L.L.P., Washington, D.C. "This is the exact opposite. It’s clearly business-to-business." Fax promotions of products and services are usually welcome by business recipients, he explained.

Tenenbaum represents the American Society of Association Executives, which has petitioned the FCC regarding the new fax rules.

Among those most likely to feel the effects of the new fax restrictions are publishers. American Business Media has petitioned the FCC to delay implementing the rules and to exempt subscription expiration notices and renewal forms.

"Publishers use faxes for a myriad of things," said ABM President-CEO Gordon Hughes. "The thing that concerns them the most is subscription renewals."

The ABM is asking its members to review their fax policies prior to Aug. 25, because of the potential risk of lawsuits. The organization is sending them sample forms that can be used to obtain written permission from fax recipients.

One b-to-b publishing executive downplayed the potential effects of the new rules on his company. "We’re not affected as much," said Robert Krakoff, chairman-CEO of Advanstar Communications Inc. "Over 90% of our circulation is controlled circulation. In the business of soliciting paid subscriptions, this is a big issue."

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