On 2/17/23 the FCC issued a NPRM proposing rules to support survivors of domestic abuse as required by the Safe Communications Act. The proposed rules would help survivors of domestic abuse to maintain connections with friends, family, and support networks. The rules would help survivors obtain separate service lines from shared accounts that include their abusers and protect the privacy of calls to domestic abuse hot lines while also assisting survivors who suffer from financial hardship through the FCC’s affordability programs, the Lifeline Program and the Affordable Connectivity Program. The following are some key events leading up to the 2/17/23 NPRM:
* On July 14, 2022 the FCC initiated a Notice of Inquiry into steps that could be taken to assist survivors of domestic abuse. In the NOI the Commission sought information on the scope of connectivity-based problems survivors face, as well as potential ways the FCC’s current programs could be improved to address these difficulties. In particular comments were sought as to how the Lifeline and ACP programs could assist survivors who were having financial difficulties. Further, input was requested relative to the development of a centralized database of telephone numbers for domestic abuse support organizations that could be used by survivors without calls to those numbers appearing in logs of calls or text messages.
* On December 7, 2022 the Safe Connections Act was enacted by Congress. The Safe Connections Act takes significant steps to improve access to communications services for survivors of domestic abuse. This legislation amends the Communications Act to require mobile service providers to separate the line of a survivor of domestic abuse (and other related crimes and abuse) and any individuals in the care of the survivor, from a mobile service contract shared with the abuser within two business days after receiving a request from the survivor. Additionally, the Safe Communications Act requires the FCC, within 18 months of its enactment, to issue rules designating either the Lifeline Program or the ACP as the program for providing survivors suffering financial hardship with emergency communications support for up to six months. Further this legislation requires the FCC to open a rulemaking proceeding within 180 days of enactment to address the creation of the centralized database of domestic abuse hotlines to be used by service providers and to require such providers to omit calls or text messages to these numbers from call and text message logs.
The 2/17/23 NPRM addresses the issues raised in the 7/14/22 Notice of Inquiry and the 12/7/2022 Safe Communications Act as well as the myriad of related issues that must be addressed in order to satisfy the specific requirements of the Safe Communications Act. Comments to the NPRM were due and were filed by interested parties on 4/12/23. Reply comments are due by 5/12/23. We will continue to monitor this issue and will provide as the issue unfolds.