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FTC: misdirected disappointment
By: Scott Bradner
Well that's embarrassing. Last week I criticized the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for failing to act against unsolicited FAXs and spam. But, as some readers have pointed out, failing to deal with unsolicited FAXs is not the FTC's job - that task falls to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC). So, apologies to the folk at the FTC for my misdirected disappointment.
The FCC is doing almost as well at failing to deal with the issue of unsolicited FAXs as I accused the FTC of doing. I did a search of the FCC daily digest (http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Digest/2008/) of news releases for "FAX" and found an interesting pattern of FAX related stories. The FCC's attention to FAX issues seems to have fallen off a cliff.
According to the FCC's January 2007 "Annual Report on Unsolicited Facsimile Advertisements" (http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/DA-07-16A1.pdf) the FCC 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 2006/7 so I went through the press releases on the FCC site to figure out what the FCC has been doing in this area.
After doing a not all that careful a 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, February: 18, March: 39, April: none, May: 1, June: 4, July: 5, August: 2, September: 2, October: 2, November: 1 and December 5. This year I could only find 3 in January and 2 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? I'm rather sure that the junk faxes have not stopped flowing, at least not to my FAX machine.
Even when they do act the action does not always seem all that effective. I mentioned unsolicited FAXs from "corporate travel department" in last week's column. I also mentioned that I've been receiving these FAXs 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 FAXs everywhere. Note that I have a real FAX, not a gateway to email, so this costs me real money not just time.
The FCC press releases started including an "apparent liability for forfeiture" item in their press releases starting June 2007. From this information it is easy to see why there is often no impact of the FCC action. Most of the FCC amounts are minuscule. According to a sample citation (http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-08-90A1.txt) 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 a nice guy.) 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 M, the few forfeitures listed for last year are mostly equally low.
Has the FCC decided to ignore junk FAXs or just building up for a big push sometime in the future? Only time will tell, but, based on past performance, I fully expect to be getting FAXs from the corporate travel office for a long time.
disclaimer: Harvard has a corporate travel department, they do not have my FAX number, nor have they, or any other part of Harvard. expressed any opinion on this topic so the above is mine.