New rules requiring text messaging providers to allow Americans to send a text to 911 to get help during an emergency have been adopted by the FCC. The rules were adopted to ensure that 911 keeps pace with changing technology by requiring all wireless providers and interconnected text providers to support text-to-911 by the end of 2014.
Texting has become a widely adopted communications tool and is the principal means by which many people with disabilities communicate. Text-to-911 can provide a lifesaving alternative for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, or who have a speech disability.
The Commission noted with disappointment that only four nationwide wireless carriers have made a voluntary commitment to support this emergency service. While the regulatory “see-saw” holds that if industry acts in the public interest, FCC involvement will be low, the Commission reiterated its duty to act if the public interest is not being served. In the words of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, “no company can hang-up on 911.”
Some 911 call centers have already responded to the FCC’s encouragement to begin accepting texts, and it is expected that others will follow as providers develop text-to-911 capability. Nonetheless, it remains up to each 911 call center to decide whether and when to begin accepting texts.


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