By now most every business has received at least one anguished message — usually sent via fax — saying something on the order of, "reply right away to say it’s OK to be on our fax list or we will never be able to fax you again." The deadline for the new Federal Communications Commission rule requiring "permission" to fax was supposed to be Monday, August 25.

Before, an "established business relationship" was considered to be sufficient permission to fax. Now a business would need a written signature to send commercial or advertising faxes to its clients — even when the customers have requested the information, or even when a trade group is sending messages to its members. The fines — up to $11,000 per fax — were intimidating.

But rest easy. A fax amnesty has been declared for 490 days. Bowing to a deluge of complaints the FCC agreed to postpone the deadline until January 1, 2005. Though the FCC says it is only doing this so businesses have more time to collect signatures, opponents — including the New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Association Executives — hope the rule can be put to rest for good.

Ten years ago everyone was worried about junk faxes. People guarded their numbers like crown jewels. Now, faxes are perceived to be efficient and cost effective. Thermal paper costs a nickel a sheet, less than a penny for regular paper. And those who are cheapskates when it comes to faxes can receive their faxes by computer.

At U.S. 1 we send out thousands of faxes a year, particularly at directory time, and the objections we can count on one hand. Isn’t it worse to have to answer a phone call or open an E-mail to see what’s inside — and expose yourself to a vicious virus? To us, a fax is the least intrusive alternative. One glance, and it can be tossed or filed or passed along to someone else.

In this age of dangerous E-mail spam, here we are with the government going after something that is, at worst, an annoyance. The energy spent on thwarting junk faxes could better be spent dealing with E-mail spam. When the New York Times has to shut down its offices for three hours to defend itself against viruses — as happened last Friday, August 22 — making laws against faxes is penny wise (or nickel wise, if you still have a thermal fax) and pound foolish.

#h#Technology Expo#/h#

All readers are invited to hear Ed Felten, the computer guru from Princeton University who testified in the Microsoft trial, on Thursday, August 28, at 3 p.m. at the Westin Hotel. His topic: "Whose Computer Is It, Anyway."

In addition to Felten’s talk, more than 100 firms will show their wares for the Princeton Chamber’s showcase and U.S. 1’s Technology Expo from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. All events are free except the $35 luncheon. Call 609-520-1776.

#h#Correction#/h#

Registration for Princeton Adult School takes place on Tuesday, September 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. at Princeton High School. Brochure will be mailed Friday, August 29, and will be available at www.princetonadultschool.org beginning Wednesday, September 3.

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