More than just the fax

By Ed Brock

Gary Howard has no problem with the Federal Communications Commission's plans to restrict unsolicited faxes.

Reading through a few of the faxes he had already received Friday Howard, the manager of Farmers Furniture on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro, said he actually happy to hear about the new regulation.

"?New stock investment program,' ?Take that dream vacation,' ?Buy some new vinyl siding,'" Howard said. "It doesn't do any good to call those numbers at the bottom telling them to take you off the list. They continue to send them."

Howard also said he doesn't buy complaints some groups have made about the FCC's decision to require companies to get written permission to send advertising faxes even from other companies with which they have an existing business relationship.

"If you are already a customer, we already have a rapport, we communicate," Howard said. "So why would I waste time, paper and ink faxing it to you, an existing customer?"

But trade associations around the country are saying the new regulations, set to take effect on Aug. 25, impose an undue administrative burden on them because many of the faxes they send would fall under the new law.

"The regulations are very onerous," said Jim Moody, executive director of the Georgia Society of Association Executives. "They will make it nearly impossible for associations to communicate with their members by fax."

The controversy began in July after the FCC released a Report and Order amending the existing regulations for implementing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, some of which pertain to the soon to be implemented Do Not Call List.

The regulations also restrict the transmission of unsolicited advertisements or promotions by fax. The rules define such faxes as "any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services which is transmitted to any person without that person's prior express invitation or permission." That permission must be in written form.

Also, in the Report and Order the FCC decided to remove part of the regulations that allowed such faxes to be sent in instances where there is a prior business relationship, something that wasn't included in the original act anyway, FCC spokesman Dan Rumelt said.

"So in a way we've brought it more into compliance with the law," Rumelt said.

The commission has received numerous requests to postpone the implementation date, Rumelt said. That is due in no small part to the efforts of the American Society of Association Executives.

"We've in every case emerged from the negotiations (with the FCC) confident that a stay in the implementation will be granted," said Chris Vest, a spokesman for the ASAE offices in Washington, D.C.

If that stay is granted the ASAE will then work with the FCC to decide if the rules should be reinterpreted or if Congress should be asked to rewrite the law. The problem with the regulations as they stand is that "there's a lot of room for interpretation," Vest said, meaning it could be applied to associations sending faxes to members giving them information the members want.

For example, what if the Atlanta Apartment Association wanted to hold a class, for a fee, on the latest homeland security information, said Russ Webb, vice president of the Sandy Springs based association.

"We wouldn't be able to fax out to our members and say we're having this class," Webb said.

The Apartment Association has 31 member companies in Clayton County representing 18,696 apartment homes. While Webb didn't know the number of member companies in Henry County he did say they represent 3,752 apartment homes there.

"When someone joins a trade association it's because they want to be a member and they want to receive the information," Webb said.

The Georgia Real Estate Investor Association, Inc. has recently changed its membership application to include a request for permission to send faxes to the new members, association Vice President Diana Rainoff said. That cost little for the association that has around 300 members in Clayton and Henry counties.

"If we have to send out a mailing and make everybody re-sign it would certainly cost us money," Rainoff said.

Most associations would probably switch to sending information by e-mail, Moody said, but that has drawbacks.

"Sometimes the associations have members who aren't technologically savvy or who don't have e-mail yet," Moody said. "Those members are going to miss out on important information."

For more information on the new fax regulations go to the FCC Web site at www.fcc.gov and the ASAE site at www.asaenet.org.