This is one of several posts that I started writing two years ago when I started by blog, but then life happened and I never finished. Now I've finished it off, and hopefully it makes the internet a slightly better place.
I send a couple faxes a month. Mostly just to fax claims to my FSA account, but occasionally also for other things. On a very rare occasion, I need to receive faxes, but mostly I have need to send them. The marginal cost of sending faxes is really really low - a few minutes of telephone time. In bulk, domestic telephone time is cheap. So cheap, in fact, that I don't have a phone line anymore - I buy VOIP service from budget providers. VOIP works great for voice, but for reasons beyond the scope of this post, you can't send faxes over VOIP. So just using a fax modem isn't an option.
So what am I to do? It seems that there ought to be a cheap online fax service to meet my needs. And there are some cheap online fax services - if I wanted a phone number. Lots of companies, for a bit under $10/mo, can give me a local or toll-free fax number, with an included number of received or sent faxes. So what am I complaining about? $10 a month to send two or three faxes of two or three pages each is silly. Its not a bad price considering it comes with phone number, but its still steep. There's one company that provides non-toll free, non-local fax numbers with unlimited incoming faxes at a very good price: $0. [FaxDigits] gives you a free incoming fax number, in hopes to sell you one of their premium services. But if you want to send faxes with FaxDigits, that will be around $10/mo. Ok, so I can get faxes on the cheap, but that wasn't my key problem. I want to send them.
I've found two companies that provide a well-priced solution to the problem: fax1.com and greenfax.com. First I signed up for fax1.com. The good: they let you give them a PDF through their web interface, and they'll fax it as is. The bad: usually. Faxes often fail for no reason, and their support is useless when this happens. Their web interface doesn't work with Safari, and its generally hard to use. They have complexity requirements not just on your password, but also on your username. My common username, "mlaiosa," was rejected, because it wasn't long enough. And on top of all that, their web interface isn't very good. I'm always a sucker for the sunken costs fallacy, so I continued using my my $13 credit with them.
Now that that deposit is done, I can give GreenFax a try. Their web site is much better, and they provide a programmatic faxing mechanism. It involves sending an email with a magic subject line, so I'm not sure how much I like that. We'll have to see.
UPDATE: Since I started writing this post in 2009, FaxDigits went under. I use GreenFax for a year or two and was reasonably happy with them. Since moving to Klamath Falls, my ISP hasn't gotten along well with VoIP providers, so I switched to a real phone line, and now use a real fax machine. I spent some time thinking about starting a service to fill my need, and in the mean time the good folks at Hello Fax seem to be doing some real innovation in this space, although I haven't really used their product.