Congress Modifies FCC Ruling on Faxes

Congress approved junk fax legislation (search) Tuesday that allows businesses to send out unsolicited faxes in certain circumstances while protecting the rights of consumers to stop receiving them.

The legislation, passed by the House on a voice vote and now headed for President Bush's signature, reinstates a 1992 Federal Communications Commission (search) ruling that permits businesses and associations to send unsolicited faxes to those with whom they have an "established business relationship."

It would eliminate a new FCC ruling, first drawn up in 2003, that required businesses and organizations to obtain prior written approval before sending a commercial fax.

That rule was supposed to go into effect on Friday, but the FCC on Tuesday announced it would further delay its new junk fax rule until Jan. 9, 2006, "in light of the ongoing developments in Congress." The agency said the delay would also give more time to respond to petitions to reconsider the rule.

Rep. Fred Upton (search), R-Mich., a chief sponsor of the bill in the House, said the new rules would impose an "enormous" financial and manpower burden on small businesses, citing one cost estimate of at least $5,000 in the first year.

He stressed that the measure does not overturn the 1991 law outlawing unsolicited ads from unfamiliar firms promoting investment opportunities, mortgage refinancing or vacation packages.

"This bill is balanced policy that rids consumers of nuisance and small business of expensive regulation," the bill's Senate sponsor, Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., said in a statement.

Under the bill, those sending faxes must alert recipients of their right to opt out of future faxes and most abide by such requests.