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FAXXED OUT

Wisconsin’s construction
industry is mailing a blizzard of permission slips in rushed preparation for the
July 1 implementation of a rule blocking unsolicited faxes.

“When you
get in this stuff early enough, it really helps,” said Cheryl Murray, an
administrator who two weeks ago sent out 2,500 letters to Creative Constructors
LLC’s subcontractors. “When it’s so huge, when you are dealing
with so many people, you have to get it done right away.”

General contractors
have long used fax machines to solicit estimates from subcontractors, just as
construction plan rooms use them to tell generals what projects they have on file.
All that might change on July 1 because of a new federal rule requiring companies
to get written permission from anyone they send faxes to. Without the permission,
the fax recipient would be allowed to sue the sender.

The Federal Communications
Commission first announced the rule in July 2003, and was originally planning
to implement it in January. The implementation date was pushed back to July.

With
about a month remaining, the fear of litigation is forcing builders exchanges
and contractors to send letters and faxes to their contact lists to get permission
slips.

For Madison-based Stevens Construction Corp., that meant spending
$2,200 on postage to send out 6,000 permission requests, said Penny Drager, who
is in charge of the mailing effort. Drager said she’ll have to track down
the companies that don’t respond to find out if they moved, closed or are
still in business. The contractor also must respond to faxes it receives from
subcontractors who are mounting their own campaigns.

Drager said it was
a difficult task but one that Stevens had no choice but to get done by July.

“We
have to be through the list, that’s the bottom line,” she said. “So
we’ll pull out all the stops to get it done. It’s like bid day.”

Lawsuits
likely

The Fox Valley Builders Exchange Inc. had to send out 1,900 letters,
300 to exchange members and the remainder to owners and planners that send specifications
to the exchange, said President Linda Voster. Voster said it was inevitable that
builders would sue each other over the new rule, citing a suit filed last year
in Ohio before the rules even took effect.

“I think a lot of people
just don’t understand it and continue to do business the way we always have,
and we will be flying by the seat of our pants until some attorney just goes around
and files a bunch of lawsuits,” she said. “It’s darn well going
to happen. All you’ve got to do is work in a plan room and listen to these
subcontractors.”

While Stevens and the Fox Valley Exchange are sweating
the deadline, the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee and Creative
Constructors are more comfortable. The AGC-GM gained fax permission from its 400
members in a three-month span last year, said Executive Assistant Kim Jalalian.

A federal rule requiring
companies to get permission from anyone they send faxes to is to take effect July
1.

Murray
at Creative Constructors said she is optimistic that she’ll clear her list
of 2,500 companies by July 1. The company started planning for the mailing after
receiving a permission request from the Associated General Contractors of America
last year. Creative Constructors has received 500 replies since sending the letters
out two weeks ago, she said.

“It’s something that we needed to
do,” Murray said. “We’re like the Boy Scouts. We’re prepared.”

With
the deadline looming, there is hope that a bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith,
R-Ore., could lessen the rule change’s impact. Smith has proposed a revision
to the fax rule that would allow businesses with well-established relationships
to continue trading faxes without any need for written permission, said spokesman
Tucker Boundes.

The Senate Commerce Committee reviewed and cleared the
bill on April 14, but it hasn’t been introduced onto the Senate floor. Boundes
said the bill is listed as a priority to both the Senate and House, and that Smith’s
goal is to get a vote before July.

“The idea is to allow businesses
to continue relationships as they already exist,” he said. “It’s
an expensive process to completely change the way you do business.”

Sean
Ryan can be reached at 414-276-0273, Ext. 107, or by email.

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