WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission zeroed in on ways to protect survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking and include more Indigenous communities in broadband subsidies for schools and libraries, known as the E-rate Program.
The FCC raised the issue of domestic violence to comply with the Safe Connections Act, which was signed into law in December. The act and the FCC’s corresponding policies require a mobile service provider to separate a domestic-violence survivor from a shared mobile service at the victim’s request.
Toshira Monroe, deputy director of D.C. nonprofit My Sister’s Place, described to the commission how family tracking apps and “find my phone” functions can be used by abusers to track and control their victims. She insisted that there be a “low burden of proof of the abuse” in order for victims to disconnect from any mobile service that they share with their abusers. This would allow them to hide any text and phone calls seeking assistance.
“Domestic abuse often happens in silence,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said. “Abusers rely on shame and stigma. They will cut off their partners from resources and support systems.” She and the three FCC commissioners voiced their strong support for the enforcement of the domestic violence protections.
Additional provisions of the Safe Connections Act include allowing service providers to identify and remove domestic violence hotline numbers from call and text logs.
Rosenworcel also announced Thursday a partnership between the wireless industry and the National Domestic Violence Hotline to support survivors. The program will connect abuse victims to someone with experience working with and providing resources to survivors when they contact providers to set up a separate phone line.
Rosenworcel and Commissioner Geoffrey Starks praised lawmakers who helped pass the Safe Connections Act, including Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) who introduced the bill in March 2022.
The second major item on the FCC’s agenda was to make the E-Rate application process more accessible for tribal libraries.
“Tribal libraries and tribal schools still face many challenges in gaining access to E-Rate support,” said Johnny Roddy, attorney advisor at the Wireline Competition Bureau. “Specifically, this notice will [modify] the forms and portions of the E-Rate application process that create the greatest burdens for tribal applicants.”