Groups that market heavily via fax breathed a sigh of relief in mid-August when the Federal Communications Commission postponed until January 2005 hastily implemented and restrictive regulations regarding unsolicited fax transmissions. The regulations had been set to go into effect August 25.

Tucked into legislation that established the National Do-Not-Call registry, the FCC amendment would require associations and businesses to seek the signed written consent of any recipient before sending a commercial fax. Until now, the existence of an established business relationship was considered implicit permission to send such faxes.

The commission defined “commercial” as “any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any property, goods, or services.”

Jeffrey S. Tenenbaum, a partner with the Washington law firm of Venable, Baetjer, Howard & Civiletti, believes the rule would cover such items as membership applications and renewal forms, conference registration forms, responses to RFPs, hotel registration information, and more. Fines for violating the new regulations would range from $500 to $11,000 per fax.

Spearheading opposition to the new rules was the American Society of Association Executives, which rallied more than 1,400 organizations behind several petitions asking for clarification and postponement of the new rule.

ASAE argued that the fax regulations would significantly impede marketing strategies and basic communications between associations and their own members. That overwhelming reaction undoubtedly factored heavily into the FCC's decision to issue a stay of the new regulations.

The postponement is intended to give the FCC a chance to hear more discussion about the effects of the rule and to give organizations more time to solicit written approval from proposed fax recipients.

Businesses and associations now have ample time to establish a fax-permissions game plan, although ASAE is hoping the FCC will change its mind. “We have 16 months now, and we're fairly confident that we can get the language changed,” says Chris Vest, an ASAE spokesperson. The association also launched a grassroots effort to make members of Congress aware of the rules and their impact on organizations.

In the meantime, “we're going to leave it up to our members to decide if they need to move forward with consent forms,” Vest adds.

You can download a model consent form from the July 23 Town Hall Meeting section of ASAE's Web site, www.asaenet.org.