Your Internet Consultant - The FAQs of Life Online

4.32. Can I send a fax from the Internet?

Indeed. Electronic mail is not limited to sending information between Internet hosts. Creative folks have plugged a variety of appliances into the Internet, including toasters, cola machines, and fax machines. In fact, there are several services for sending a fax via Internet mail; some are free but others are pay services. (With at least one service, users can receive a fax via Internet mail.) Four mail-to-fax services that I know about are discussed in the following text. Others will likely be available by the time you read this.

Free "Remote Printing"

One fax-from-the-Internet service is the brainchild of Carl Malamud (the creator of Internet Talk Radio) and Marshall Rose. They're doing research on how to integrate special-purpose devices, like facsimile printers, into the fabric of the Internet. The experiment is a good hack. It works simply enough: send electronic mail to a special address and soon after (if your recipient's fax machine is in the covered area) out comes a freshly-minted fax.

How does it work? A variety of companies, institutions, and citizens linked to the Internet have joined the experiment by linking a computer and fax modem to the Net. When an organization joins the remote-fax service, it specifies what areas it is willing to send faxes to. In most cases, an organization will allow faxes to be sent to any machine that is a local call from its location.

This service itself is free; rather, it costs no more than sending a standard e-mail message. Malamud wrote in an e-mail message, "First, it costs you money to send e-mail... so faxing is not free, it is cost-effective and distance insensitive." The recipient is only out the cost of a sheet or two of fax paper. However, the creators are investigating ways of recouping a nominal fee for sending faxes to help reimburse institutions for the cost of sending faxes.

"The point of this experiment is not 'here is a way we can freeload on altruistic people,' but 'here is a way we can all pitch in and work together to provide telephone service,'" Malamud says.

When you send an e-mail fax message, you (naturally) must include the phone number of the recipient's fax machine. A computer looks at the phone number and determines whether any participating fax machines cover the area you want to fax to. If so, your message is routed to the appropriate machine for faxing. Otherwise, you will receive electronic mail with the disappointing news that your fax couldn't be delivered.

Can you send a fax anywhere? Well, no. This is an experiment, so only a smattering of participants have enlisted their fax machines in the quest to send outgoing messages from total strangers to other total strangers. As this is written, the set of locales to which you can send faxes is bizarre, including all of Australia, New Zealand, Washington DC, big chunks of Central California, some of Southern California, and parts of Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York. More locales undoubtedly will be added to the list soon, including Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Japan, Sweden, and more parts of the United States.

To send a fax over the Internet, compose an e-mail message. The body of the message should contain the contents of your fax message. The To: line is the most important part of your fax-mail, because it must contain the phone number of the recipient's fax machine as well as the recipient's name.

The To: line should look something like this:

To: remote-printer.Arlo_Cats/
To the left of the @ symbol, you must include the identity of the recipient. The words remote-printer tell the fax server the type of access. (In this case, faxing or remote printing.) Because some mailers have difficulty dealing with addresses that contain spaces, you should be careful as to what characters you use to identify the recipient. It is safest to use upper- and lowercase letters, digits, the _ and the / character. When the fax cover sheet is generated, the _ will turn into a space and the / will become a line break. So the preceding address would generate a cover sheet such as

Please deliver this facsimile to

Arlo Cats
Room 123
The mess of numbers to the right of the preceding example identifies the telephone number of the remote fax machine. Exchanges must be specified by country code and phone number. This means you must specify the country code and then the phone number of your intended recipient. If you're sending to a machine in the U.S., you need only send a 1, the area code, and the phone number. Next, add the Internet domain

You can send a fax to multiple fax machines or even a combination of faxes and traditional e-mail recipients. After the deed is done, you will receive electronic mail telling you whether your fax was successfully sent.

For more information or for a copy of the Frequently Asked Questions list on faxing from the Net, send mail to tpc-faq@town.hall.or, and you will automatically receive the FAQ via e-mail. The FAQ also covers advanced topics such as using MIME to send fancy formatted text or graphics and how to operate your own fax server for the good of the world.

Fax sites are being added to the network on a regular basis. For a current list of faxable areas, send e-mail to There is also a mailing list for discussion of the fax service and its implementation. To join, send a request to


You can use InterFax to send faxes via e-mail within the U.S. or internationally. InterFax costs money to use (billed to your credit card) but, unlike the remote printing experiment described previously, with InterFax you can send faxes anywhere, not just select locations. As of this writing, InterFax costs $5 per month, which includes the first five fax pages. Additional pages cost 50 cents each. There is a one-time sign-up charge of $25. For further information, send e-mail to or contact InterFax at PO Box 162, Skippack, PA 19474 USA. (215) 584-0300; FAX: (215)584-1038.


Another fax-by-mail service is FAXiNET, with which you can send any text (ASCII) or PostScript documents to fax machines worldwide. FAXiNET can send faxes to more than 50 countries and plans to add more. The company also says it can receive faxes for you, which will be delivered to you via electronic mail. I haven't used their service, but if it works, the ability to receive faxes in e-mail is a unique one.

Accounts for individuals cost 75 cents per page, plus a one-time $20 activation fee. Additional services, including adding your custom logo and signature to your faxes, are available at extra cost. Corporate accounts are also available.

More information is available from AnyWare Associates, FAXiNET, 32 Woodland Road, Boston, MA 02130. (617) 522-8102. E-mail:

Unigate--for Faxing to Russia

Unigate is another pay-for-use service that you can use to send faxes to and from Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Unigate is a commercial service that also handles "snail mail." Most of us probably don't need to fax Russia, but if you should need to, Unigate is probably much less expensive than whatever method you're using now. Fax service from USA to Russia (or back) is $1.59 per page. I've never needed to fax Russia, so for more information, e-mail

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