FCC Adopts Rules to Help Domestic Violence Survivors Access Connectivity

According to the FCC, domestic abuse survivors whose devices and associated telephone numbers are part of a multi-line or shared plan can face difficulties separating lines from such plans, maintaining affordable service, and accessing domestic violence support services. Accordingly, on November 15, 2023, the FCC adopted rules to implement the Safe Connections Act of 2022 and support survivors of domestic abuse by helping them leave their abusers’ phone plans, protect the privacy of calls made to domestic abuse hotlines, and provide financial support through the Commission’s Lifeline program.1

Specifically, the Commission adopted a rule, among others, applicable to all providers of private or commercial mobile service that would require providers no later than two business days after receiving a completed line separation request from a survivor to: 1) separate the line of the survivor, and the line of any individual in the care of the survivor, from a shared mobile service contract with the abuser, or 2) separate the line of the abuser from the shared mobile service contract. The provider must treat the line separation request as confidential, and securely dispose of the information not later than 90 days after receiving the information. Additionally, the provider must authenticate that a survivor requesting a line separation is a user of a specific line or lines, provide for a secure submission of line separation requests, provide the survivor with documentation, provide training for employees who interact with survivors, and provide a notice to consumers. The FCC is requiring providers to comply with its new rules by May 15, 2024, or when the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”) completes review of the rules, whichever is later.

The Commission also directed the Wireline Competition Bureau to establish a central database of covered hotlines that providers must omit from consumer-facing logs of calls or text messages. Providers, including fixed wireless and fixed satellite providers of voice services, will be required to maintain internal records of the omitted logs. The FCC set a 12 month compliance deadline, from publication in the Federal Register, for larger providers, and an 18 month compliance deadline for providers that have 100,000 or fewer voice service subscriber lines.

Lastly, the Commission adopted rules designating the Lifeline program to provide support to eligible survivors for up to six months.

If you have any questions or would like to discuss this issue further, please contact Dee Herman at [email protected] or Shannon Forchheimer at [email protected].

[1] Supporting Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence, Report and Order, WC Docket No. 22-238 (rel. Nov. 16, 2023).