The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has delayed a new rule requiring businesses, associations, and nonprofit groups–including schools–to obtain written permission before sending out unsolicited faxes that advertise or promote the availability of any property, goods, or services.

The new FCC rule, announced in July, was to have been in place Aug. 25. In the past month, the FCC received 12 petitions asking the commission to delay the new fax rules.

The agency announced Aug. 19 that it had unanimously approved a 16-month delay, although a spokeswoman suggested this was unrelated to the petitions.

“We wanted to give the companies as much time as they needed to commit to compliance with the rules,” FCC spokeswoman Rosemary Kimball said. “We felt that was very generous. No matter what a company’s fiscal year is, no matter what their schedule is, they are all accommodated.”

Businesses and nonprofit groups opposed to the rule say they will use the 16-month delay to urge Congress to block the requirement.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which submitted a petition, said it would push Congress to act. Stephen Bokat, the chamber’s senior vice president and general counsel, said its members have sent more than 3,000 messages to Capitol Hill, and the organization is assembling a coalition to lobby lawmakers. The American Society of Association Executives, which represents nonprofit groups, also plans to pressure Congress, said Jim Clark, a senior vice president.

Under the old regulations, written permission for unsolicited faxes is not required if the targeted individuals and companies already do business with the organization sending the fax. There is a requirement for written permission from targets not engaged in business with the sender of the fax.

The new FCC rules would require organizations to get written approval from all parties. The Chamber of Commerce said this would burden businesses with unnecessary paperwork and prevent organizations from communicating with their members.

“This rule impacts everyone, not just business,” said Bokat. “If the Boy Scouts want to invite their members to come to a dinner and there’s a charge, it’s covered by this rule. If the local church wants to fax something to its congregants saying there’s a pancake supper and it’s $5, it’s covered by this rule.”

And if schools want to distribute any type of newsletter via fax that informs parents about field trips, school plays, fundraising initiatives, or other social events that cost money, they, too, would need written permission from the fax number’s owner.

The National Association of Realtors, another petitioner, said the new regulations could have disrupted real estate sales.

“The ability to move promptly and communicate via fax is instrumental to the success of these transactions in highly competitive housing market,” said Cathy Whatley, a Florida Realtor who is president of the trade group.

The FCC announcement also said the 16-month delay will offer more time to respond to requests to reconsider the new rules.

“They have 16 months to come in with a better idea,” Kimball said of the petitioners. “What we absolutely are firm about is we don’t want consumers paying for unsolicited advertising. This is the best way we could think of to reach that conclusion. If someone has a better idea, we’re willing to look at it.”

The fax rules were approved at the same time as the do-not-call list, which allows Americans to sign a registry to block unsolicited telephone sales pitches. More than 30 million Americans have signed up for that service.

Although the new fax rule would have changed the way some schools and other organizations do business, it also meant school fax machines no longer would have wasted toner and paper printing junk faxes–a benefit many school leaders were looking forward to.

“Our taxpayers are paying more than we would like for fax paper and supplies, resulting from the myriad unsolicited faxes we receive every night,” said Raymond Yeagley, superintendent of the Rochester School District in New Hampshire, before the FCC announced the delay. “I’ll be glad to see that volume reduced, as it has bothered me since two weeks after we purchased our first fax machine.”

Links:

Federal Communications Commission
http://www.fcc.gov

U.S. Chamber of Commerce
http://www.uschamber.org