Why Phone Companies Are Fighting Proposed Legislation That Would Make It Easier To Escape Domestic Violence

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Woman scared on the phone

A lobby group representing Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T Wireless and other wireless mega-firms is seeking to weaken a bill designed to protect domestic abuse victims from stalking and technology abuse.

Under the bill, titled the Safe Connections Act, victims would be able to easily remove themselves from family phone plans that may be controlled by their abuser, while holding network providers liable if they fail to comply with the rules outlined in the proposed legislation.

Sounds reasonable enough, but lobbyists representing the wireless industry are petitioning to change the bill, seemingly protecting these wealthy corporations no matter the potential cost to victims of domestic violence.

What is the Safe Connections Act?

The proposed legislation, introduced by to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation by Senators Schatz, Fischer, Scott, Blumenthal, Rosen, and Capito, is an important measure meant to protect those experiencing domestic abuse by making it easier for them to leave their abusers.

In short, the new law "establishes three new policies to protect survivors who break from family phone plans and limits abusers’ access to certain sensitive communications," namely:

"Removing financial penalties for survivors trying to separate their phone lines and their dependents’ phone lines from an abuser, after requiring survivors to submit an affidavit from a medical professional or police report, among other options for documentation; Requiring the FCC to create rules that would require providers to expunge any calls or texts to hotlines, such as those maintained by crisis response centers; [and] Expanding eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program, which provides $9.25/month phone plan subsidies, to domestic violence survivors."

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If passed into law, the act would allow survivors to exit a shared family phone plan, after providing required documentation, within 48 hours of making a request.

The law would also allow customers to keep their phone numbers and terminate their contract even if the account was in arrears.

Companies would also be required to remove domestic abuse hotlines from call and text records and provide survivors with access to Lifeline, a discount program run by the Federal Communications Commission for low-income households.

Children in the care of the survivors would also be removed from the plan.

At its core, the act would remove some of the currently problematic hurdles faced by people trying to find their way out of an abusive relationship.

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This is a traumatic and dangerous time for survivors, who often struggle to escape abusive situations because of the many complicated obstacles in place.

Advocates say the new law would be less burdensome than current rules which may require survivors to pay fees or to provide court orders and police reports.

Currently, network providers charge as much as $350 per line to leave a contract, making it almost impossible to escape abuse in situations where the abuser is the sole financial provider or controls household finances.

Why the Safe Connections Act Matters

For survivors who have escaped abusive situations, this act will prevent abusers from being able to keep tabs on their call and text history, their voicemails, and possibly locate where they are or who they might be with.

For those still trapped in an abusive household or relationship, being able to leave a contract quickly and subtly may help victims create an escape plan or reach out to someone for help. This is why the removal of domestic abuse hotlines from call logs is crucial.

Abusers are most dangerous when a victim leaves or attempts to leave.

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Thus, creating a safe pathway for survivors to get away from their abusers can be life-saving.

Why are network providers trying to block the Safe Connections Act?

CTIA, the lobby attempting to alter the bill which describes itself as the “voice of America’s wireless industry,” wants to make the bill voluntary to service providers.

This would prevent service providers from being held accountable if they fail to change a victim’s phone contract or comply with other aspects of the law.

However, this would also make it impossible for regulators to enforce the law and risk leaving victims even more vulnerable if they think they can quickly get out of a contract and later discover their provider opted out.

CTIA released a statement in January claiming to “support the goals of the legislation,” statng they have a “shared objective of protecting survivors of domestic violence.”

That said, they do not appear to have outlined how their proposed changes would thoroughly protect victims of domestic abuse.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic abuse or violence, help is available. Trained volunteers are available 24/7/365 on the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

If you’re unable to speak safely, text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 or log onto thehotline.org.

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. Catch her covering all things social justice, news, and entertainment. Keep up with her Twitter for more.