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Misdirected disappointment over fax inaction


My criticism over inaction on unsolicited faxes should have been directed at FCC, not FTC


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner , Network World , 07/15/2008


Well thatÕs embarrassing. Last week I criticized the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for failing to act against unsolicited faxes and spam. But, as some readers pointed out, failing to deal with unsolicited faxes is not the FTCÕs job - that task falls to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). So, apologies to the folks at the FTC for my misdirected disappointment.


The FCC is doing almost as well at failing to deal with the issue of unsolicited faxes as I accused the FTC of doing. I did a search of the FCC daily digest of news releases for "fax" and found an interesting pattern of fax-related stories. The FCCÕs attention to fax issues seems to have fallen off a cliff.


According to the FCCÕs January 2007 "Annual Report on Unsolicited Facsimile Advertisements,"
the commission received 47,704 fax complaints representing 102,004 alleged violations between July 9, 2005 and July 9, 2006, and issued 125 citations with more to come. I could not find a report for 2006/2007 so I went through the press releases on the FCC site to figure out what the commission has been doing in this area.


After doing a not-all-that-careful scan, I found 123 press releases with the word "fax" in their titles for the calendar year 2007, but the pattern of the releases is a bit strange. January 2007 saw 42 press releases, then the numbers for the other months followed like this: February (18), March (39), April (none), May (one), June (four), July
(five), August (two), September (two), October (two), November (one) and December (five).
This year I could only find three in January and two in February.


What happened last March? Did almost all of the FCC folk that deal with fax issues retire or get moved to new jobs? IÕm rather sure that the junk faxes have not stopped flowing, at least not to my fax machine.


Even when the FCC does act, the action does not always seem all that effective. I mentioned unsolicited faxes from "corporate travel department" in last weekÕs column. I also mentioned that IÕve been receiving these for years. Imagine my surprise when I found that the first entry in the "entity cited" list in the January 2007 report was Adventure Marketing doing business as "Corporate Travel Center." 


Whatever the FCC is doing it is not stopping some folks from blasting their junk to fax machines everywhere. Note that I have a real fax system, not a gateway to e-mail, so this costs me real money – not just time.


The FCC press releases started including an "apparent liability for forfeiture" item starting in June 2007. From this information it is easy to see why there is often no impact of the FCC action. Most of the amounts are minuscule. According to a sample citation, the FCC considers $4,500 per unsolicited fax advertisement to be an appropriate base amount for the forfeiture. (The same citation points out that the law provides for forfeitures up to $10,000 for each violation - I guess the FCC is just being nice.) So far this year the forfeiture amounts have been two at $4,500, one at $13,500, one at $24,500 and one at $450,000. It seems to me that only the last one would have any real effect on a successful operation. Except for one forfeiture of $2 million, the few forfeitures listed for last year are mostly equally low.


Has the FCC decided to ignore junk faxes or is it just building up for a big push? Only time will tell, but based on past performance, I fully expect to be getting faxes from the corporate travel office for a long time.


Disclaimer: Harvard has a corporate travel department that does not have my fax number. Neither it nor any other part of Harvard has expressed any opinion on this topic, so the above is mine.


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