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Senator Urges Protected Internet Service for Violence Victims

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and a local nonprofit are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to provide better cell and broadband access and protection to those in abusive relationships.

(TNS) — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and a local nonprofit are calling on the Federal Communications Commission to provide better cell and broadband access and protection to those in abusive relationships.

"(People) who break with abusive partners are often more threatened at that moment than any other time," said the senator, who visited The Center for Empowerment & Education in Danbury Friday morning to discuss efforts to get the FCC to help domestic violence victims and survivors safely cut ties with their abusers.

Center for Empowerment & Education President and CEO Ashley Dunn said access to safe communications should not be another obstacle that victims and survivors have to overcome.

"We simply cannot afford to put up any additional barriers for clients and survivors, who are facing trauma each day," she said. "We need to be breaking down barriers."

Just as critical as getting help is protection from threats and violence of their abusive partners, Blumenthal said, which is why he's calling on the commission to provide protections to victims and survivors seeking help, as well as access to telephone cell service.

"I am asking the Federal Communications Commission to ... keep private the records of phone calls made to service organizations, loved ones — any network that can help them in this critical period," he said.

Equally important, Blumenthal said, is access to a separate phone service that enables victims and survivors to safely seek help regardless of income.

"There should be no necessary proof of income level or of abuse. Believe the victim or survivor," he said. "That's what we're telling the FCC — don't impose additional hurdles or obstacles."

Blumenthal sent a letter to the FCC this past week, urging the commission to "adopt strong rules to protect the privacy of domestic violence survivors and to ensure their access to critical phone and broadband services" as it takes steps to implement the Safe Connections Act.

The act — passed by Congress in November 2022 — aims to empower survivors to safely get out of cell service plans they share with their abusers and calls on the FCC to develop rules on providing them access to a subsidized broadband and phone service program called Lifeline.

"This kind of program — the Lifeline Program — extended to domestic violence victims and survivors is critical," Blumenthal said Friday.

The Center for Empowerment and Education — formerly known as the Women's Center of Greater Danbury — is a dual-agency, serving both domestic violence and sexual assault victims, that's available and ready to help 24 hours a day, seven days, 365 days a year.

In addition to 24/7 hotlines, the center offers a residential facility for women and children fleeing from domestic violence and trauma counseling for victims. It also has child advocate counselors, who work with kids affected by violence, and a team that works with the courthouse and police department to advocate for and help victims through legal processes.

Dunn said she's thankful for elected officials like Blumenthal who support the center's mission and seek ways to protect victims of domestic violence, as well as organizations that provide them support.

"We just urge the FCC to listen to what you have to say, because it truly is going to mean a life-saving measure for victims experiencing violence," she said during Blumenthal's visit on Friday.

Blumenthal said the FCC had not responded to his letter as of Friday morning, but he hopes the commission will issue one in the next few weeks.

"This initiative is very important to preserving access and privacy for victims and survivors of domestic violence," he said. "We are asking and urging the FCC to provide, by specific rules, privacy and access ... which it has the power to do under existing authority."

© 2023 The News-Times (Danbury, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.