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FCC Seeks to Require Wireless Carriers Enable Texting to 9-1-1

Move called ‘crucial next step’ to sending video to public safety answering points

The U.S. government seeks to require wireless carriers and providers of “interconnected” text messaging systems to enable users to send text messages to 9-1-1 systems that can receive texts, which is “a crucial next step” towards 9-1-1 systems that can receive video.
On Jan. 9, 2013, the Federal Register posted a Federal Register notice—Next Generation 9-1-1; Text-to-9-1-1; Next Generation 9-1-1 Applications—that says “implementing text-to-9-1-1 represents a crucial next step in the ongoing transition of the legacy 9-1-1 system to a Next Generation 9-1-1 system that will support not only text, but will also enable consumers to send photos, videos and data to public safety answering points, enhancing the information available to first responders for assessing and responding to emergencies.”
The proposed rule says, “Wireless consumers are increasingly using text messaging as a means of everyday communication on a variety of platforms. The legacy 9-1-1 system, however, does not support text messaging as a means of reaching emergency responders, leading to potential consumer confusion and even to possible danger. As consumer use of carrier-based and third party-provided texting applications expands and evolves, the 9-1-1 system must also evolve to enable wireless consumers to reach 9-1-1 in those emergency situations where a voice call is not feasible or appropriate.”
In the “further notice of proposed rulemaking,” the FCC proposes rules that will enable Americans to send text messages to 9-1-1, and will educate and inform consumers regarding the future availability and appropriate use of text-to-9-1-1, the document says.
Currently, the most commonly used texting technology is “short message service,” which is available, familiar and widely used by virtually all wireless consumers, the proposed rule says. In addition, the major carriers have indicated they intend to use SMS-based text systems for their initial text-to-9-1-1 deployments, and the FCC expects other initial deployments to be similarly SMS-based.
Nonetheless, the FCC does not seek to limit texting systems to SMS, it says. “As a result of the rapid proliferation of smartphones and other advanced mobile devices, some consumers are beginning to move away from SMS to other IP-based text applications, including downloadable software applications provided by parties other than the underlying carrier.
To the extent that consumers gravitate to such applications as their primary means of communicating by text, they may reasonably come to expect those applications to also support text-to-9-1-1, as consumer familiarity is vital in emergency situations where seconds matter. Therefore, the FCC proposes that service providers who offer SMS-based text-to-9-1-1 should have the flexibility to migrate their customers to other text-to-9-1-1 applications, the proposed rule says
There are four deadlines for comments depending on which section of the proposed regulation the comments are on.
The deadline for comments on “Section III. Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” is Jan. 29, 2013, with reply comments due Feb. 8, 2013.
The deadline for comments on all other sections of the proposed rule is March 11, 2013, with reply comments due April 9, 2013.
Click here to access the Federal Register notice.