With the April 5 deadline to amend the Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2005 quickly approaching, the Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy is making a final push with its recommendations for the Federal Communications Commission.

The act is to intended to prevent third-party advertisers from using bulk lists to fax unwanted advertisements to businesses. The biggest issue the FCC faces with implementation is finding a way to stop junk faxes from reaching businesses, while still allowing legitimate business communications to pass through.

Businesses complain that spam faxes cost them money for toner and paper, while making it more difficult for them to receive legitimate faxes.

Spot, a boutique video-production company based in Boston, receives over a dozen junk faxes a week. "They are such a waste of resources," said Annaliese Rittershaus, assistant producer at Spot. "That's always the rub with faxes -- it's your ink and your paper with someone else's useless spam on it. We recycle them, but it still feels like a waste."

In January, and again in March, the Office of Advocacy reached out to a group of small businesses and compiled a list of suggestions to help the FCC find a way to fairly implement the act without hindering commerce. With these suggestions, the FCC came up with three requirements that companies must abide by to be able to send unsolicited faxes lawfully:

  • There must be an established business relationship between parties.
  • The sender must have obtained the fax number from a voluntary source -- either a representative of the company or the business website.
  • The sender must include an opt-out notice on the unsolicited faxed advertisement.

At a March 13 meeting with the FCC, the Office of Advocacy recommended that the burden of proving an established business relationship should be on the fax sender, not the receiver. The Office of Advocacy further to suggested that the FCC should allow fax senders to rely on general records to prove a relationship, rather than a particular form of recordkeeping that could be burdensome to such businesses as wholesalers, distributors, and realtors that regularly fax specs on new merchandise and residences to their list of clients.

The Office of Advocacy also recommended the FCC keep flexible the rules on how fax numbers are obtained, since there are many different ways to gain that information -- from websites to business cards to advertisements.

"Let's not go overboard on regulating unless we have to," said Eric Menge, assistant chief counsel for telecommunications at the Office of Advocacy.

Small businesses that want to put an end to the stream of junk faxes coming through their machines have a couple of options, according to the act. They can report the unsolicited faxes to the FCC, and they can sue the sender for $1,500 per fax.

To further curtail the ease in which junk faxes are received, the Office of Advocacy suggested that the FCC should encourage manufacturers of fax machines to take the junk-fax problem into consideration when building new models. There are some fax machines on the market that can display caller ID. These machines can store these numbers and refuse to accept faxes from that number. Some other fax machines store the faxes it receives and allows receivers to preview the information before using their ink and paper to print unwanted advertisements.