FCC Requires Support for Text-To-911

Federal Communications Commission logoThe Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted new rules that are designed to promote the widespread use of text-to-911. Currently, the availability of text-to-911 is limited. The purpose of this new rule is to keep pace with how Americans communicate. In other words, the FCC has noted that more people are using cellphones and texting now than they have in the past.

This new requirement builds on existing commitments that were made by America’s four largest wireless carries to support text-to-911 by May of 2014. The new rules require all remaining wireless carries and certain IP-based text application providers to support text-to-911 by the end of 2014.

The new text-to-911 requirements apply to wireless carriers and “interconnected” text messaging providers. It also 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 social media or games.

Why is it important to have a more uniform system that allows for text-to-911? The overall reasons is to help save lives. The FCC noted that Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have speech disabilities are widely using text messaging. It also pointed out that there can be situations where a person is in danger but is not safe to call 911. Sending a text is silent, and can be used more discretely by people who need help. Text-to-911 can also be useful when networks are congested.

That being said, the FCC doesn’t necessarily recommend that everyone use text-to-911 as a “go-to” for emergencies. They describe text-to-911 as a complement to, not a substitute for, existing 911 service. Make a voice call to 911 whenever possible. If that doesn’t work, then it is time to use text-to-911. They recommend people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities to use relay services or other existing methods to contact 911 if text-to-911 is unavailable.