Blast Faxers Attacked on Two Fronts
By Elizabeth Schneider
August 24 -- It doesn't matter if it's 5 a.m. or 11 p.m., local resident Anne Greenspun's fax machine is churning out junk -- literally.
But soon, countless California residents like Greenspun could see relief for their bogged-down fax machines.
On Thursday, a coalition of California activists filed a set of lawsuits in both California and Federal courts totaling $2.2 trillion against Orange County based Fax.com, Inc. The suit claims that millions of "junk faxes" are clogging machines nationwide, jamming communications and perhaps even endangering lives by inundating hospital machines.
The suit comes two weeks after State Senator Debra Bowen (D-Redondo) and Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego) introduced a bill to put an end to junk faxing in California once and for all.
If passed, AB 2944 would repeal a California law that allows for junk faxing, provided the fax includes a toll free number that recipients can call to get off junk fax lists. The bill would leave in place the stronger 1991 federal law (Telephone Consumer Protection Act), which prohibits unsolicited faxes unless the recipient has an established business relationship with the sender or has given consent to receive the fax.
Bowen and Kehoe's campaign against junk faxers gained new momentum earlier this month when the FCC announced its decision to fine Fax.com, Inc $5,379,000 for sending unsolicited fax advertisements in violation of the TCPA and FCC rules.
"The fine, the largest junk fax fine in history is great news," Kehoe said. "However, it's much less than the costs Californians are forced to pick up when junk faxes send sales pitch after sales pitch in over their machines, eating their fax paper, toner, time and more. It's akin to a telemarketer calling you collect or a mail order company sending you its catalog with postage due."
Coming on the heals of the federal fine, Thursday's lawsuits accuse Fax.com, its telecommunications provider, Cox Business Services (a division of Cox Communications Inc.) and Fax.com's advertisers of violating federal laws prohibiting unsolicited ads or announcements sent to millions of personal, corporate and government fax machines.
In a prepared statement Fax.com rejected the lawsuits as "unfounded and absurd," countering that it has the constitutional right to advertise by fax.
The federal government disagrees. Under the TCPA it is illegal to send unsolicited fax advertisements. That same law allows individuals to take junk faxers to small claims court and receive $500 per junk fax, or up to $1,500 if the judge determines the violation was intentional.
But the federal law has not kicked in for California, where state law AB 2438 has allowed some unsolicited faxes since it was approved in 1992.
Critics of the state law say it has been misinterpreted in the courts. The problem, said staff attorney for the Santa Monica based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights Pam Pressley, is that the state law was intended to protect individuals during the estimated two-year interim between passage of the federal ban and the time when FCC regulations would be implemented.
"Junk faxers have completely ignored the federal law," Pressley said. "They are basically hiding behind the state law."
So far Californians have been left with few options.
Earlier this summer Bowen introduced a bill similar to the one introduced this month banning junk faxes. The bill passed the senate 37-0 but was killed in the Assembly Business & Professions Committee by a 4-2 vote on June 25.
The recent FCC decision to fine Fax.com, however, bolstered Bowen's optimism that her new bill will pass.
"The FCC's action proves what a number of us have been saying for months, which is that Fax.com's entire operation is set up to violate the federal law," Bowen said in an earlier press release. That's "why we ought to get rid of the conflicting California law that Fax.com tries to hide behind as it blast faxes the daylights out of people."
And for people like Greenspun that's good news. No matter how many times she has called the 1-800 on the offending faxes, she's seen no reduction in the number of solicitations she receives.
"That's what makes it even more annoying," Greenspun said.
The full senate is scheduled to hear Bowen and Kehoe's bill as early as Monday.
Wire reports contributed to this article.
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