Do You Still Fax?

Paul Venezia of InfoWorld asks why the fax machine refuses to die. In what is a bit of a rant rather than a reasoned analysis, Venezia advises:

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! The mind boggles.

A few reasons come to mind as to why some people still fax. One is that despite an economy that whips up lust for the latest tech gadget, we have a strong conservative bent when it comes to technology (as with many other aspects of our lives). After all, we’re still using internal combustion engines in our automobiles and talking on telephones connected together with wires. And fax machines can claim a long pedigree — and a Scotsman at the source. Evidently one Alexander Bain in 1843 patented:

improvements in producing and regulating electric currents and improvements in timepieces and in electric printing and signal telegraphs

Another reason, one said to be favoured by lawyers and doctors, has to do with the dubious understanding that a faxed document, particularly a signed faxed document, has greater authenticity in the eyes of a court than an emailed document.

A discussion on MetaFilter raises a number of other reasons why we still cling to faxes: it’s easier to fax than to scan and email an attachment; phone lines are more secure than the internet; using phone lines may be cheaper in some circumstances; and fax machines kick out a certificate of delivery.

So, do you still fax? And if so, why?


  1. Completely coincidentally: the WSJ reports this morning that the Dutch government is reverting to fax and paper for the time being because a government site and network servicing the public was hacked, likely by Iranians.

  2. Service by email requires acceptance of service under Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure. Service by fax doesn’t. Change the law, and the fax machine will die.

  3. Faxing is used by libraries to provide articles while avoiding the copyright problems that arise in the format transfer from print to digital – another example of technological advancement held back by the protocols developed around the previous stage.

  4. In my commercial practice, I haven’t sent or received a fax in maybe 5 or 6 years. Everything by scan-and-send. Even the dinosaurs I work with are converts to pdf – tell an old guy “it’ll take nine hours to send fifty pages of markups to eleven people” and they get over it pretty quickly.

    The only exceptions – as someone noted above, where the rules of a court or tribunal don’t permit electronic service, or where a contract doesn’t refer to electronic service.

  5. Of course we still fax. Why? Because unlike firing a pdf attachment off into the Internet ether, with a fax machine we get a nice little sheet that confirms the other fax machine processed the message. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t out of paper, or ink, but it is better for our ‘phew’ feelings than a read receipt saying that some ‘server’ likely put something in an email box.

  6. My old firm used to work with associates in Germany who refused to accept instructions that weren’t faxed. They actually had a disclaimer on their letterhead that said they would ignore any instructions provided by email or phone that weren’t confirmed by fax.

    Also the Canadian Intellectual Property Office accepts filings by fax but not by email.

    So the answer is that as long as there are people who insist on receiving faxes, the rest of us need to keep a fax machine around.