by Art Piccio . April 11th, 2014
When was the last time you used a fax machine? I’ve personally never in my nearly 30 years of existence ever found the need to use a fax machine. Granted, they became obsolete before I finished high school.
The Museum of Obsolete Objects Presents – The Fax Machine:
Even in the United States, a little over 1-in-20 people continue to use fax machines at least semi-regularly, even when there are plenty of digital alternatives. What’s more, thanks to security and legislative issues, they are still clinging to life. Walk into any office supplies store and you will find new analog fax machines.
In a rant on InfoWorld, Paul Venezia asks ‘Consider what a fax machine actually is: a little device with a sheet feeder, a terrible scanning element, and an ancient modem. Most faxes run at 14,400bps. That’s just over 1KB per second — and people are still using faxes to send 52 poorly scanned pages of some contract to one another. Over analog phone lines. Sometimes while paying long-distance charges!”
Old school faxes are clearly on the way out. But why the heck are they still around? However Venezia felt at the time – and how he felt is something most techies commiserate with – fax machines persist for several pretty solid reasons:
There’s no inherent logic to it, any more than a business is any more legitimate because they have a website or business cards. However, if customers ask for any of these things and you don’t have one, you might have blown it.
In the United States for example, broadband access is only at around 70% – and not all broadband connections are equal. Dial-up internet in this day and age is unfortunately the only option for many Americans if they want to go online.
As of February 2014, an estimated 87% of Americans are now online – the highest it’s ever been. How many of you are surprised that number isn’t higher? It still leaves 13% of Americans who simply don’t go online or simply have no access – period. For the internet-deprived who do have access to a landline however, a fax machine might be the most convenient way they could send and receive images and documents.
Lawyers, realtors, insurance companies, and everyone else who needs to receive authentic, non-handsigned documents rely on fax machines.
TechCrunch author and NPD Group analyst Ross Rubin explains “…their endurance is in part a testament to the failure of digital signatures that would allow us to e-mail certified copies of contracts and similar documents…As with electronic voting machines, there remains a level of societal skepticism over the viability of digitally certified documents.”
The very nature of fax technology – specifically the T.30 fax protocol and others in the series – is difficult to intercept, and it’s impossible for most practical purposes to block or change the document between the sender and recipient. It’s for this reason faxed signatures are legally binding in many jurisdictions. While the NSA could likely intercept faxes, you could avoid having to go through all those 3rd party servers emails typically go through.
Government agencies also use them extensively. For instance, under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) regulations, analog faxes are an acceptable way to communicate. E-mails are acceptable, but a series of security standards and levels of encryption need to be met. For many, using a fax is much simpler, than taking the extra effort required for a HIPAA-compliant email.
While you might get the occasional spam fax, there’s hardly going on with fax machines on the malware front, given the inherent nature of fax protocols. They’re about as likely to get malware as your landline. For anyone concerned about phishing and privacy, this can be a huge plus.
Arguably, some internet-based alternatives offer the same level of security, but depending on whom you talk to, either legislation needs to catch up, or this type of tech does not offer sufficient enough security. Either way the fact remains that electronic signatures are not universally accepted as legally binding. Yet.
Take note that if your machine is in a location where prying eyes can look at the documents, security is pretty much a moot point.
For businesses that bought fax machines and other legacy systems from a time that there were no alternatives, there might not be much incentive in upgrading if their existing machines work fine. And since there are enough of them around and some feel they might need them at some point, they continue to exist- as perhaps the world’s most persistent legacy system.
While online alternatives to fax can be fussy, requiring multiple steps before you are able to send anything, sending a fax couldn’t be easier. Just feed the machine, enter a fax number, and you’re done. It’s pretty much similar to the reason why some people still wear mechanical wristwatches when everyone’s got a phone with a far more accurate clock.
This goes back to #3 and #7. While even broadband internet can be glitchy, we half expect our landlines to survive anything short of a nuclear war. This is also a huge reason why businesses might still have landlines.
They became so widespread, and entrenched and still do their jobs well enough that few people who have them care about replacing them. It’s arguable that points 10 through 2 are just gravy. How entrenched are fax machines? A recent survey by GFI showed 1,008 US respondents, 85% said they use faxing, as do 74% of the 1,005 UK workers polled.
Granted, it’s not mentioned for sure if the workers who used fax machines used them frequently. Clearly the frequency of use would change depending on the industry. Still, those aren’t small numbers for a technology you’d expect to be dead by now.
There’s absolutely no lack of alternatives to analog faxing and the only reason you should consider one is if you need to receive any significant volume of legally binding documents.
How long until faxes to disappear for good? Given their continued capacity to surprise us, we doubt anyone can say for sure.
photo credits: shalf via photopin cc; kalleboo via photopin cc
Arthur Piccio manages YouTheEntrepreneur and has managed content for major players in the online printing industry. He was previously BizSugar's contributor of the week. His work has appeared multiple times on The New York Times' You're the Boss Small Business Blog. He enjoys guitar maintenance and reading up on history and psychology in his spare time.
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