By Sue Fernandez
ANNAPOLIS – You’re waiting for a fax so you can finish a report that was due an hour ago. When the fax finally comes, it’s not the statistics you needed, but an ad for free fries at the nearest fast food joint.
Under a bill now before the Legislature, those who receive unsolicited faxes would have a way to stop them.
Such faxes should be as traceable as unwanted phone calls, Sen. Ida G. Ruben, D-Montgomery, told the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday.
Ruben is sponsoring a bill that would require anyone sending an unsolicited fax to include an 800- phone number on it, giving the fax recipient a way to tell the sender that he or she doesn’t want to receive any more faxes. The bill includes a fine of $1,000 per incident for violations.
“This would be closing a loophole,” Ruben said. “You can stop unwanted phone calls, but there’s no way you can stop unwanted faxes.”
Unwanted faxes, which are usually sent by businesses as a form of advertising, tie up machines and increase paper costs, Ruben said. “It’s not like junk mail, which you can just toss in the garbage without spending any money,” she said.
Sean M. Looney, director of government affairs for Bell Atlantic, agreed with Ruben.
“It can be real annoying when you’re waiting for an important fax,” he said in an interview after the hearing.
Persons who receive unwanted phone calls may get a caller identification device, or they may trace the call, Looney said.
“We even have an unwanted phone call bureau,” he added. But, “People who get unwanted faxes can really do nothing.”
Looney said unsolicited faxes were a much bigger problem years ago, when fax machines first came out. Fewer businesses are sending them out now, because there were so many complaints that the practice now has a negative connotation.
“A lot of businesses stopped out of their own interest,” he said.
Some still send them, however. Restaurants, computer stores and audio stores are among the biggest senders, Looney said.
Sen. Jean Roesser, R-Montgomery, asked what it would cost to obtain an 800-number. Looney said the toll-free number would have to be an interstate service, rather than one that would function only within Maryland. He did not have precise cost figures Wednesday.
Finance committee member Sen. Martin G. Madden, R-Howard, said he worried that the bill would affect constituents who sent faxes to elected officials.
“The way I see it, a constituent would have to include an 800- number to complain about the stadium,” Madden said. Ruben said the measure was aimed at businesses, not constituents, and perhaps the bill’s language could be changed. -30-