The House voted Tuesday to relax regulations that restrict the transmission of unsolicited commercial faxes (search) to homes and businesses.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Fred Upton (search), R-Mich., would overturn Federal Communications Commission rules requiring the senders of commercial faxes to get prior written approval from recipients. The FCC rules, which were set to take effect last August, have been delayed until January 2005.

Two similar bills, sponsored by Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., are being considered by a Senate committee.

Upton said his "common-sense regulatory relief" would not overturn the ban, imposed in 1991, on unsolicited faxes, nor would it protect those who bombard people and businesses with unwanted faxes.

The House bill, approved by voice vote, would rewrite the rules so that senders would no longer have to prove an existing business relationship with recipients before sending faxes. Where no such relationship exists, senders of commercial faxes would be required to prominently include "opt-out" instructions for recipients who no longer wish to receive them.

Companies and associations that rely on faxes to solicit business or communicate with members or clients have lobbied heavily to overturn the FCC rules, which they say would create new costs and paperwork and jeopardize efficient customer service.

Upton cited one estimate that complying with the new FCC rules would cost a small business $5,000 and 27 staff hours of work in the first year alone.

The 1991 Telephone Consumer Protection Act (search) prohibited the dissemination of "unsolicited advertisements" to fax machines. Under an existing interpretation of the law, written permission for unsolicited faxes is not required if the recipients already do business with the organization sending the fax.