WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission on Monday imposed a record $5.4-million fine against a California company that allegedly sent out unsolicited faxes in violation of federal law.
The action against Fax.com Inc. of Aliso Viejo came after the company lost a lawsuit it had filed to challenge the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which bans junk faxes.
Agency officials said the fine was meant to send a message to those who violate the federal law and burden junk fax recipients with the cost of paper, ink and other items associated with receiving such documents.
"Consumers hate to go to their fax machine only to find their resources have been wasted on spam and junk," FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell said in a statement. "We're sending relief in the form of a simple message to junk faxers: Violate our rules, and you will pay the consequences."
Lawyers for Fax.com did not return calls seeking comment Monday.
The Telephone Consumer Protection Act has become a lightning rod for litigation in recent months as direct marketers have sought to get the courts to overturn provisions of the act that restrict prerecorded telephone sale pitches, unsolicited faxed advertisements and telemarketing calls.
The FCC found that Fax.com violated the consumer protection act and FCC rules on 489 occasions. It imposed the maximum fine of $11,000 for each violation. The commission said the maximum was warranted because "Fax.com's primary business activity itself constitutes a massive ongoing violation" of federal law. The Commission rejected Fax.com's arguments that the federal ban on junk faxes was unconstitutional and that the amount of the FCC's fine was excessive.
In its fight against junk faxes and illegal telemarketing, the FCC has issued nearly 200 fines and citations since 1999, agency officials said.
The FCC first proposed its $5.4-million fine against Fax.com in August 2002 after a number of complaints. The company responded by suing the FCC in federal court. Imposition of the fine was delayed until a federal appeals court upheld the junk fax law last year.