Manassas Journal Messenger | Wrong priorities

On the same day the Federal Communications Commission announced it was delaying new regulations to limit so-called junk faxes, one of the largest e-mail viruses was saturating computer servers from coast to coast.

The FCC and various states are trying to get a grip on annoyances such as spam and excessive telemarketing, but they always seem to be a few steps behind those causing the problems.

We were told this week that the FCC would delay until 2005 a regulation that prohibits junk faxes being sent to homes and businesses without written permission.

What seems to be the problem?

Was the FCC too occupied crafting regulations controlling unsolicited telegraph transmissions? We hear that the ink is almost dry on the FCC’s new edict designed to control the proliferation of junk smoke signals – we call it air pollution. Efforts by the feds limiting junk mail sent via pony express was recently tabled until 2006.

While fax machines are still useful to many people and businesses, their use in our society has waned with the growth of e-mail and the Internet. That’s not to say that unsolicited faxes are not a problem, but the FCC efforts to control this problem seems trivial in light of the growing problems associated with spammers, and even out-of-control telemarketers.

Junk faxes, which include everything from vacation offers to bogus call-in polls, take a toll on businesses that require open lines to receive vital information. Petitions from non-profit groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged the FCC to delay the new rules. The FCC issued the delay but said the 16-month holdup is only a grace period to give businesses a chance to comply with the new rules.

The federal government took action earlier this year in an attempt to reduce the number of annoying telemarketing calls. More than 30 million Americans rushed to sign up for the “Do Not Call” list which goes into effect this fall. Phone numbers on the list are deemed untouchable to telemarketers.

Unsolicited e-mail (spam) is another, more difficult, battle. A number of states, including Virginia, have promised tough laws against mass e-mails with threats of heavy fines and jail time. Now, it’s being reported that various security companies are looking into the possibility that spammers are behind the recent SoBig.F virus that clogged e-mail inboxes on Wednesday. This virus and its unwanted e-mails accounted for 70 percent of all e-mail traffic on Wednesday, according to the Washington Times.

Spam e-mails appear in almost all e-mail inboxes offering everything from “Free Viagra!” to low mortgage rates. The problem with spam is that traffic in cyberspace is international, making it difficult to control. Spam, which can spread computer viruses, poses a greater threat than junk faxes and telemarketers combined.

So, while the FCC has tabled its important junk fax regulations, it is hoped that the feds will begin to work with the states and foreign nations in researching effective tools to fight spam and associated computer viruses that could be lurking behind every e-mail attachment.

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