FCC requires emergency texting services from carriers, texting apps

The commission votes to require mobile carriers and texting apps to adopt text-to-911 functionality

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted Friday to require U.S. mobile carriers and many text-messaging apps to enable users to text emergency dispatch centers, even after questions about whether the centers will be ready by the deadline.

The commission's vote requires U.S. mobile carriers and some texting apps to put emergency text-to-911 functionality in place by the end of the year.

Even though the nation's four largest mobile carriers have all added text-to-911 functionality this year, less than 2 percent of the nation's 6,800 emergency dispatch centers are ready to receive texts, said Commissioner Ajit Pai. The commission's action will give smartphone users the impression they can send text to emergency responders, when many will not be able to, he said.

The FCC's action "encourages the public to dive into text-to-911 functionality, when in reality, there's hardly any water in the pool," Pai said. "The order is sure to result in massive consumer confusion, and therefore will endanger, rather than advance, public safety."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler applauded the largest mobile carriers -- Verizon Wireless, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile USA -- for adding text-to-911 functionality. The agency needs to push other carriers and emergency dispatch centers, called public-safety answering points or PSAPs, to do the same, he added.

"A lot of time of has passed since [the four largest] carriers stepped up and did something voluntarily, and the other carriers serving the consumers of America did not," he said. "If you don't step up to your responsibility, we will."

Smartphone users should still call 911 if possible, but text-to-911 services need to be more widely available, Wheeler said.

The adoption of text-to-911 will let smartphone users contact police and other emergency responders when it's not safe to talk on the phone, Wheeler said. It will also aid people with hearing or speech disabilities, he noted.

"Texting is now as important a function on a mobile device as talking," Wheeler said. "Some of those text messages are cries for help."

The FCC's text-to-911 requirements will apply to mobile carriers and to interconnected text-messaging providers, those providers that enable consumers to send text messages to and from U.S. phone numbers. The rules will also apply to so-called over-the-top phone applications that support texting to and from phone numbers, but not to messaging apps that only support communications among users of games or social media.

Commission staff wasn't able to immediately provide a list of text-messaging apps covered by the requirements.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags governmentmobilesmartphonesregulationtelecommunication3g4gconsumer electronicsU.S. Federal Communications CommissionTom WheelerAjit Pai

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?