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Fax Bill Rolls Through House Committee

A bill that would relieve marketers of an obligation to get written permission before sending commercial faxes received unanimous approval from the House Energy and Commerce Committee at a hearing yesterday.

H.R. 4600, the Junk Fax Prevention Act, would preserve the existing-business-relationship exemption to the current ban on unsolicited faxes. Commercial faxers complained that a written-permission requirement would prevent them from sending faxes even when a customer made a verbal request.

The bill now goes to the full House for a vote. A spokesman for the bill's chief sponsor, Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI, did not know when that would occur.

At the hearing, Upton cited a U.S. Chamber of Commerce study indicating that the written-permission rule would cost businesses $5,000 in the first year and $3,000 every year afterward. The bill would not open the door to junk faxing, he said.

“This bill does not protect senders of those annoying unsolicited fax advertisements which so many of us get from companies with whom we've never done business — often sent to us randomly by blast fax — and do not properly identify themselves,” Upton said in his opening statement at the hearing.

Fax marketers would be required to let consumers and businesses opt out of fax communications and would require an opt-out notice, including a toll-free telephone and fax number, on all commercial faxes. In addition, the bill requires the Federal Communications Commission to determine acceptable cost-free methods for fax recipients to send opt-out requests.

Within three years of enactment, the agency also would have to determine the term of existing business relationship, which now is defined as anyone who has made a purchase in the past 18 months or an inquiry in the past three months. The FCC would have discretion to exempt nonprofit trade associations from the bill's opt-out provisions.

The FCC instituted the written-permission rule along with the implementation of the national no-call law last summer. As a result, the rule went nearly unnoticed. However, trade associations, fax marketers and industries that depend on commercial faxes eventually mounted a campaign to prevent the rule's implementation. The FCC then delayed the rule until January 2005, but the bill would pre-empt the FCC.

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