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The Federal Communication Commission’s new rules will ensure that all remaining wireless carriers and certain IP-based text application providers are prepared to support text-to-911 by the end of the year.
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules requiring text messaging providers to enable Americans to text 911 in an emergency. The new rules will ensure that all remaining wireless carriers and certain IP-based text application providers are prepared to support text-to-911 by the end of the year. After that time, if a 911 call center requests text-to-911, text messaging providers will have six months to deploy the service in that area.
According to the FCC, these rules will make text-to-911 more uniformly available and keeps pace with how Americans communicate.
The Commission’s text-to-911 requirements apply to wireless carriers and “interconnected” text messaging providers (i.e., those that enable consumers to send text messages to and from U.S. phone numbers). This includes providers of “over the top” applications that support texting to and from phone numbers. It does not include messaging apps that only support communications among users of games or social media, the FCC said.
Although text-to-911 availability is currently limited, it is rapidly expanding. More than one hundred 911 call centers serving portions of 16 states and two entire states (Vermont and Maine) are now accepting emergency texts. Text messaging providers are required to send an automatic “bounce-back” text message to consumers who try to text 911 where the service is not available.
Text-to-911 can provide a lifesaving alternative in a number of different situations, such as when a person who is deaf, hard of hearing, or has a speech disability is unable to make a voice call. The service can also help where voice networks are congested; or where a 911 voice call could endanger the caller, according to the FCC.
The Commission also wants comment on the continued evolution of text-to-911, including delivering texts to appropriate 911 public safety answering points as well as on proposals to improve text-to-911 service, such as through better location information and roaming support.