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PIA Endorses Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2004

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2004 - The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents is supporting the Junk Fax Protection Act of 2004, saying the...
June 29, 2004

Bill Protects Consumers While it Relieves Small Businesses, Nonprofits and Associations of a Burdensome FCC Regulation

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2004  - The National Association of Professional Insurance Agents is supporting the Junk Fax Protection Act of 2004, saying the legislation will continue to protect consumers from unwanted fax solicitations while relieving small businesses and nonprofit groups of a costly, confusing and burdensome regulation.

The Junk Fax Prevention Act of 2004 (H.R. 4600) says businesses may send faxes to their customers and members - those with whom they have "existing business relationships" or EBRs - without having to obtain prior authorization from each recipient, as the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) regulation had permitted since 1982, until the confusion created last summer when the FCC expanded its Do-Not-Call rules to affect the longstanding EBR provision in their "No-Fax" requirements.  This bill also continues to protect consumer choice by requiring faxing entities to provide an option for the receiving consumer to "opt out" of receiving future faxes.

"PIA supports this bill, as a step in the right direction, in once again recognizing that existing business relationships exist and carry communication obligations with them," said PIA National Senior Vice President Patricia A. Borowski. "For insurance agencies, insurers and associations, many times outbound communications to clients and members are expected or required - either by the nature of the services that we provide, or as a matter of legal requirement. So, we appreciate this bill responding to these legitimate communications needs."

PIA's concerns are twofold: the ability of PIA members to send expected business communications to their insureds through multiple medium means, some of which are required under insurance laws and regulations; and the ability of associations to send correspondence and notices of member benefits to their members.

Last summer, without prior notice, the FCC reinterpreted existing fax marketing rules in place since 1982 that made exceptions for EBRs, deciding that the rule was insufficient and that, starting Aug. 25, 2003, businesses sending faxes would need to obtain express written permission from the parties to be faxed before sending faxes. After opposition from PIA and a broad array of associations that depend on faxes to communicate with their members, the FCC delayed implementation of the written-permission portion of the rule until Jan. 1, 2005. There has been no indication since then that the FCC would do away with the rule permanently, making federal legislative correction the recourse to pursue.

H.R. 4600 would preempt and correct the new FCC rule. It was introduced in the House June 16 by Rep. Fred Upton (R-Michigan) chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications, and by the Ranking Member of the full committee, Rep. John Dingell (D-Michigan). The subcommittee approved the bill June 24. A companion bill, S. 2603, has been introduced in the Senate.

"These bills help reduce FCC's confusion about existing business relationships (EBRs)," Borowski said. "That is particularly important for those of us in the insurance industry, since it is insurance law that defines what constitutes an established business relationship for our industry, not a rule promulgated by a misguided and over-reaching telecommunications agency."

"Additionally, the FCC fails to understand that associations are made up entirely of those who join them to be informed about all that is available from their association and who pay annual dues for that access. Requiring an association to obtain permission from its members to send them faxes is like requiring an individual to send and obtain from himself an authorization before he can send a fax to himself. That's absurd. This bill fixes that as well," Borowski said.

In addition to restoring the EBR language to fax laws, the legislation would require a mandatory "opt-out" for unsolicited marketing faxes sent under the auspices of the reestablished EBR.  Another provision allows the FCC, after receiving public comment, to waive the opt-out provision for tax-exempt organizations faxing members on issues related to their exempt purpose.

Rep. Upton's subcommittee held a hearing the day before the legislation was introduced, at which representatives of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), the National Association of Realtors (NAR) and the National Newspaper Association (NNA) testified in support of the bill.

Founded in 1931, PIA is a national trade association that represents member insurance agents and their employees who sell and service all kinds of insurance, but specialize in coverage of automobiles, homes and businesses.