The Federal Communications Commission has proposed a rule that would require all text message providers to support emergency texts to 911 by the end of the year. "While voice calling to 911 remains the preferred method, consumers also expect to be able to send a text to 911 and have it reach authorities," the commission says in a press release.
The four major carriers, T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T, voluntarily committed back in late 2012 to make text-to-911 available everywhere by May 15th, 2014. So far the capability has been deployed in patches, with Verizon leading the pack, covering more than two dozen cities as well as the entire states of Maine and Vermont.
The FCC's announcement seems intended to put pressure on the big four to follow through on their commitment as well as prompt action from smaller carriers and internet-based text messenger services. The proposed rule would compel all providers to support 911 texts where call centers can receive them by the end of the year.
The proposal is now open for public comment
The proposal is now open for public comment. It looks like the big four are attempting to stick to their promise, but the smaller carriers may be falling behind. There's a good chance that these smaller carriers and internet texting service providers will likely protest that the technology is too onerous and try to get the deadline pushed. That's what happened when the government mandated that carriers enable emergency operators to trace the location of 911 calls; carriers complained, dragged their feet, and missed deadlines.
The vast majority of Americans text, and the medium is more accessible for those with hearing and speech disabilities. Unfortunately, carriers are just one part of the system. The call centers themselves will also need to make adjustments in order to receive emergency texts.