Jul 14, 2022 - Technology

FCC to seek ways to help domestic violence survivors

Illustration of a cell phone with an image of a woman on the screen and a red handprint over it
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted unanimously to begin exploring how its broadband affordability programs can be better tailored to help survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

The big picture: Domestic violence affects more than 12 million people a year, with advocates warning that pandemic lockdowns led to an uptick in cases.

Driving the news: The FCC's notice of inquiry seeks comment on how its Lifeline and Affordable Connectivity Program — which subsidizes phone and broadband service for low-income households — can be changed to ease enrollment for survivors.

  • The FCC also wants input on how to protect the privacy of calls and texts between survivors and abuse assistance hotlines or shelters, such as by requiring phone providers to omit those records from call logs.
  • "These are people you know, who may have suffered during the pandemic and who may struggle in the days ahead," FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the agency's meeting.
  • "We need to ensure every one of them has a way to connect to the assistance they need for healthcare, for housing, and to be safe from those who would do them harm."

Between the lines: The FCC's action comes as Congress considers bills meant to help domestic violence survivors easily leave shared phone plans that can be used by abusers to track and harass them.

  • After some pushback from the wireless industry, the Senate in March passed the bipartisan Safe Connections Act from Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).
  • The House Energy & Commerce Committee on Wednesday approved its version of the bill from Reps. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.).
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