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How will the expansion of 5G impact Native American and Alaska Native domestic violence victims?

5G is here and many Americans are excited about faster internet speeds and the ability to be more connected than ever before. But the advantages of the new 5G connectivity won’t be felt as quickly — if at all — by those who live outside urban areas in rural and remote parts of the country, such as Native reservations.

By the end of 2022, U.S. wireless carriers will have completed shutdowns of their 3G data networks. It’s already started. Sprint’s 3G stopped on January 1. AT&T’s 3G will shut down on February 22. Verizon’s 3G will end on December 31. A complete list of shutdown dates and carriers can be found here.

How will the loss of the ability to use 3G technology affect Native victims of domestic violence? They may have access to 5G but no 5G-compatible phones or devices due to the high cost to replace old, outdated ones. Or they may have no access to 5G and no access to 5G phones and devices and, therefore, will be completely cut off from service. Whether or not Native people are living on reservations or in urban areas, the loss of 3G has the potential to be detrimental and even life-threatening.

Even if our relatives are connected to 5G networks, here’s a short list of devices and services currently in use that won’t work with 5G:

hands holding mobile phone
  • 3G or older phones (won’t be able to call or text)
  • Security systems
  • Personal alarm devices
  • Medical alert devices
  • Interior car navigation devices
  • Ankle monitors used by law enforcement to keep track of parolees
  • Websites and apps that use a cellular connection
  • 911 calls

Many domestic violence organizations give people old phones that don’t have service, since older phones have still been able to make 911 calls. However, these older phones will now be obsolete and there will be no way for people to call or text.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives are the most vulnerable to domestic violence with more than 1.5 million Native women and 1.4 million Native men experiencing violence during their lifetime, often by non-Native perpetrators, according to the National Institute of Justice. In a 5G world where there exists the likelihood of a domestic violence victim being unable to seek help is very real and extremely frightening.

And there’s more to this picture. Without a doubt, the end of 3G will also widen the gap between higher income and low-income individuals who can’t afford the upgrade to 5G compatible devices and other smart 5G technology. As a segment of the U.S. population, Native peoples are still at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder due to the effects of centuries of colonization. This includes neglect by the U.S. federal government, which has bred a continuing cycle of poverty and economic disparity. So for many Native Americans, the cost of a new smart phone or device is out of reach. Digital inequality will become even more unequal leaving many of our relatives even more cut off from the protective and supportive services they may need most.

And there’s another perhaps more ominous side to 5G access. Domestic and sexual abusers who employ digital abuse — the use of technology and the internet to harass, intimidate or stalk to control someone — are also getting smarter and more deceptive along with the new smart 5G technology. Devices that are intended to make everyday life easier and more pleasant, such as smart phones with their built-in maps, smart home thermostats, home security cameras and even baby monitors can make it easy for digital abusers to cyberstalk and control their victims faster and undetected.

Here are some tips to ensure not only that you can use your phone in an emergency situation but also that you can keep all your devices as safe as possible from cyber intruders in the 5G world.

  • Phones: Contact your service provider if you have a 3G phone, a phone more than two years old, a basic feature phone or, particularly, if you have a phone for 911 calls only. Lower income users with phones for 911 calls only can check with the organization that provided them and also consider applying for service from the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program. Many phone companies are also currently offering free phones or discounted rates and they also have customer assistance programs to help with the transition.
  • Simple 4G phones with cellular access are available for under $50 and should be usable for several more years.
  • Review your entire online footprint, including phone, social media platforms, car and home devices. Document every item and update your security settings.
  • Use passwords, codes and other security features on your phone, other devices and social accounts. Make your passwords as strong as possible and don’t share them. Consider a two-step verification for additional security.
  • Beware of location settings since many apps and software show your location and may be monitored by someone with access to your accounts and devices. Check your apps and turn off any location settings that you don’t need or use.
  • Turn off tracking apps, such as GPS satellite navigation, when not in use. The most common way abusers track victims is through apps that victims have personally installed.
  • If you have home smart devices that can be remotely accessed, such as a home security system, smart thermostat or an Amazon Echo (Alexa), change your passwords so only those you trust have access to them.
  • Cover the webcam on your camera and computer/laptop/tablet when not in use because these devices can be accessed remotely and activated by apps.

It might seem like a good option to delete or minimize your digital footprint as much as possible. However, this is exactly what an abuser wants: to isolate and have power over you in all areas of your life. The key is to be aware of the ways an abuser might be trying to control you and have a safety plan if you feel your devices and safety are compromised. StrongHearts also has a list of Privacy Tips that may be helpful. If you feel your safety is being threatened, know that StrongHearts advocates are available 24/7 to talk through options with you.


"It's last call for 3G bars: Cellular carriers making room for 5G networks." Eric Scicchitano, CNHI Harrisburg Bureau, Allied News Jan 25, 2022.

"Transition to 5G cellular service will cause older 3G phones to stop operating in 2022." By Eric Scicchitano The Daily Item. Jan 14, 2022

"Refuge's chilling new campaign shows how 'domestic abuse is getting smarter'" Jade Biggs. November 17, 2021

"3G networks shutting down next year. Here's what you should know." Heather Kelly. The Washington Post. September 30, 2021.

"The Economic Reality of Native Americans And the Need for Immediate Repair." Dedrick Asante-Muhammad and Kathy Ramirez. November 26, 2019.

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