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Monday, October 29, 2012

ETFs and domestic violence victims

Most major wireless carriers charge "early termination fees" (ETFs) when customers cancel cell phone contracts. Typically, postpaid (as opposed to prepaid) wireless contracts lock customers into one or two year contracts in return for a free or deeply discounted mobile device. But when domestic violence victims trying to flee abuse encounter such policies, it is not only unfair but downright dangerous as it may lead victims to keep their existing phones. Shared wireless devices can be used by abusers to stalk their partners, so it is crucial that domestic violence victims have access to new accounts. Cindy Butterworth, an Upstate New York woman, was outraged when she learned that her sister, a domestic violence survivor, was asked by her carrier to pay a hefty ETF when she sought to get a new wireless number and account. Her sister's carrier, Verizon, asked for a $500 cancellation fee when she tried to cancel the contract she had shared with her abuser. Butterworth started a petition on asking Verizon to amend its policies and within a few weeks garnered more than 190,000 signatures for her just cause. In response, Verizon publicly committed to improving its policies and service regarding joint contract termination for customers who are domestic violence survivors. Verizon's promises focus not only on unjust early termination fees, but include a comprehensive policy to train its employees to assist domestic violence victims and refer them to appropriate resources and assistance. Consumer Action calls on the entire wireless industry to enact policies that ensure that domestic violence survivors who are trying to start new lives away from their abusers are never asked to pay an ETF. Many times women who flee an abusive relationship have few resources and it is of utmost importance that they can find safety away from their abusers.