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How cellphone unlocking bill aims to help abuse victims - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

How cellphone unlocking bill aims to help abuse victims

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

New legislation out of Washington is being touted as a big help for abuse victims and domestic violence support groups. Sen. Patrick Leahy was a driving force behind the legislation that's tied to cellphone service.

Women Helping Battered Women, a group trying to curb domestic violence, gives out cellphones to abuse victims.

WHBW employee Emily Ferdette said, "Denying access to cellphones and other telecommunications devices is a tactic used by other abusive partners to keep victims feeling isolated and afraid."

When a victim of domestic abuse has a cellphone, they have a way to call for help during an emergency. According to Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the cellphone serves as a lifeline that victims can use in cases of emergency. Leahy announced the bill Monday. He hopes it encourages more cellphone donations to organizations that can get the phones to victims of abuse.

The new legislation unlocks the phone, that means consumers can transfer cellphone carriers regardless of which company sold the phone.

When a person comes into the Women Helping Battered Women office to pick up a new cellphone, it not only serves as a 911 lifeline for them, now under this new bill you can take a phone sold by AT&T, Verizon or any other carrier and change the service.

Leahy says the bill, "The Unlocking Consumer Choice and Wireless Competition Act," is designed to give consumers more options.

"It's not the companies that have the option of whether you can unlock," said Leahy, D-Vermont. "You have the option."

Domestic abuse prevention groups need more cellphone donations because they currently get cellphones to only 1 in 80 women that need it.

According to Karen Tronsgard-Scott, an advocate for abuse victims, "In Vermont, the 14 members of the Vermont Network against Domestic and Sexual Violence distribute over 100 cellphones per year to the over 8,000."

Leahy also touted the bill's ability to give flexibility to someone choosing a wireless carrier and he says it should create more competition in the market.

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