Last week the four largest mobile phone carriers in the US announced a planned agreement to allow users to contact the American 911 service via text message. In a statement released on Thursday, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said that AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile had all signed on to the “text-to-911” program, which will see “major deployments” in 2013, before a nationwide launch no later than May 15th, 2014.
Last week’s announcement simply marks the latest stepping stone towards the FCC’s continuing Next Generation 9-1-1 initiative, which was started in 2010. The goals of the commission and initiative are simple, “to bring 911 into the Digital Age” through expanding the service to use and communicate through the modern communication systems in place in today’s society.
Currently 911 emergency services can only be contact by a phone call, but under the FCC’s new “text-to-911” plan users would be able to send texts, videos, and photos to 911 dispatchers and operators – hopefully expanding the strength and effectiveness of the 911 program currently in place. This service, as noted by The Verge, would be especially helpful to people with hearing or speech disabilities, who may not be able to communicate via voice call. Technology has adapted and created communication platforms that are more highly used and disability friendly, and as the Verge notes:
“Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century.”
It is expected that at launch in 2014 the new service will be available to more than 90 percent of all wireless customers in the US. Throughout the rollout phase those attempting to text 911 will receive an automatic bounce-back, or auto-response, message if the service is not yet available in their area.
Getting all four major carriers to sign on had proven difficult for Genachowski and the FCC, who hailed the announcement as a major step forward:
Today we are one step closer towards that vital goal. . . This is good progress, but our work is not done.”
While there are still many bugs in the system to figure out, such as whether or not Apple’s iMessage service will be 911 compliant, the FCC will be working to ensure that the service is available to all Americans – helping to usher one of our nation’s most fundamental and used systems into the mobile and digital ages.