What business hasn't been annoyed by unsolicited faxes for supposedly great deals on computers, Hawaiian vacations or new cars?

If your company's fax machine is like most, employees probably have to spend a considerable amount of time separating the important documents from the useless ones in the fax pile. So-called junk faxes were supposed to have been eliminated with the passage of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which banned unsolicited marketing by fax and imposed fines. Before it became law in 1991, any company with a fax machine was inundated daily with advertisements, each of which wasted its fax paper, wore out its machine and cost the company money in time and supplies.

Although the law considerably cut down on the clutter, it was unable to completely stop it. So as part of the legislation passed in July creating the government's national do-not-call list, the Federal Communications Commission added a provision requiring all businesses, including trade associations, to obtain written permission from customers or members before sending them any fax that could be considered an advertisement or promotional item. The new law, to take effect Aug. 25, gave officials only a month to compile the signatures.

That was too much, too quickly, according to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America, the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors National Association, the National Association of Realtors and hundreds of other industry groups.

"We knew such a short time frame would never allow us to get the explicit written permission required by the FCC from the thousands of members and customers who have requested (and paid) for newsletters they get from us by fax," ACCA spokesman Kevin Holland wrote in the group's newsletter, ACCAlert.

Faced with a deluge of similar complaints and petitions to delay the rule, the FCC relented, giving trade groups and businesses until Jan. 1, 2005, to get the OK to fax from customers and members.

"We're just thrilled about that," said PHCC spokesman Lake Coulson.

Coulson pointed out the new law could have affected contractors too, especially those who perform commercial service, if they use faxes to send estimates to customers.

"I don't think this was Congress' intent," he said.

Many groups, including the PHCC and ACCA, are planning to use the next 15 months to lobby the FCC to make the stay permanent and use the former fax-law standard, which only required a "prior business relationship" to send a fax.

Look for updates in future issues of Snips.

Letters

I am a longtime sheet-metal mechanic with over 30 years (experience) in HVAC and other sheet-metal work (roofing and metal fabrication).

Where are those good-paying jobs you talked about in your August 2003 editorial ("What's a well-trained HVAC worker worth to you?")?

The computer-driven plasma machines have all but eliminated the sheet-metal-layout worker's job. I expect that in the next five to 10 years, field workers will also be replaced. At my age, 56, I cannot find a shop job and am too old to be climbing scaffolds, (working) under houses or in attics.

Lee Barry

Bristol, Va.