Monique Ferraro (Photographer:Daniel Brewer)

A few days ago, I was able to help a fellow lawyer who had trouble with a problem she was having trying to get her fax machine to work on her new phone line. She came in to my office and sat down, looking defeated.

“Bad day at court?,” I asked.

“No. I can’t get my fax machine to work ever since I changed providers.”

A woman who has vanquished more than her share of Goliath-type foes, she told me her tale of woe. Fortunately, I was able to provide her the benefit of my experience, as I will you.

About three years ago, I spent two weeks banging my head against a wall. Not an uncommon experience, I agree, but on this occasion, the frustration was caused by my attempt to make a fax machine work at my new home office. For the record, I am no slouch when it comes to setting up and troubleshooting computer, network and communication system issues. When it comes to most of the technical office problems, I’ve been there and done that many times. This, however, flummoxed me.

The new, all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/fax was hooked up to the phone line, but no matter what I did I could not send or receive a fax. Despite all the advances in technology, so many people still insist on sending and receiving faxes that a fax machine is essential. I called the cable company and spent hours on the phone troubleshooting with the company’s help desk. I researched the issue online. I talked to countless colleagues. I swapped out cables and was probably responsible for a good amount of employee turnover at Staples, Office Max and RadioShack during my period of flailing about for an answer.

Then, one day, it occurred to me: “What if it’s the line that’s the problem and not the fax machine?”

Eureka!

I changed my line of inquiry to how faxes are transmitted and the capability of fax machines—or at least the fax machine that I was trying to make work—to function properly using a voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) line. You see, at my former home I happily faxed over an old-fashioned copper wire line because it was necessary to have such a line for my security system. Copper wire lines still work when the electricity goes out. Those of you who have security systems such as ADT are required to have a copper wire line to make the system function, because it doesn’t work on VOIP. When I moved to my new digs, I didn’t have a security system and opted for VOIP for all of my communications needs—TV, several phone lines, business and home Internet. I didn’t associate the move with the fax problem at first.

It is possible that some fax machines work on some VOIP systems. However, when a fax machine doesn’t work when you switch from one type of service to VOIP, the culprit is the VOIP, more than likely. That caveat aside, back to my issue with the VOIP versus plain old telephone service.

Once I identified the problem, the fix should have been easy. Not exactly. Have you tried to contract for copper wire service lately? It is very difficult to find a vendor in some places and very difficult, once you identify a vendor, to get a real human being on the phone. Once I identified the issue and determined to contract with a copper line vendor, it took a full month to get the line installed, and when it was installed, the company installed the service at the wrong address. No, I am not kidding.

No real harm was suffered, except for driving me to distraction nearly every day for two months from the point of identifying the issue to its resolution. The other day, when I was able to relieve my friend and colleague’s suffering by telling her the cause of her trouble, I felt like a champion, victorious over a technological villain.

My colleague’s trouble was caused when she switched from DSL service, very similar to plain old telephone service, to cable VOIP. My trouble was caused when I went from plain old telephone service to cable VOIP.

There are better alternatives to switching to copper wire telephone service that are much more effective and inexpensive. Note that a business copper wire line runs at least $50 a month. Ringcentral.com and other websites have fax services that fax attached or scanned documents for about $10 a month. As a practical matter, either scanning and faxing via VOIP or simply attaching a document and emailing it from one’s workstation is a breeze and is much cheaper as compared to the fax machine. Why bang your head against the wall?

For those who cling to fax technology, ringcentral-type technology is fantastic and cheap if you transition from copper wire technology. Should you be so bold as to jump to email, it costs zero. When we all agree to do that, we can stack our fax machines next to our typewriters and rotary dial telephones. •