FCC moves ahead with text-to-911 plan

The Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously Thursday to move ahead with plans to enable Americans to send text messages to 911 for emergency services.

Last year, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile agreed to make text-to-911 available by May 2014 where possible. During its monthly open meeting Thursday, the FCC repeated its praise for those voluntary commitments but called on the companies and public safety organizations involved to make that service uniformly available.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had harsh words for 911 call centers, which have impeded the proliferation of text-to-911 services, he said.

The response of 911 call centers — or Pubic Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) — to last year’s text-to-911 agreement between the wireless companies “has been underwhelming,” Wheeler said.

“We call on the PSAPs to get with it.”

In the FCC policy statement adopted at Thursday’s meeting, the agency also called on other parties, including other wireless companies and Internet-based texting services, to make similar commitments to make text-to-911 services available to users.

The commission also voted to move forward with a process that could require all text providers to enable text-to-911 services by the end of the year. The FCC is now seeking comments on the technical ability of text providers to meet such a mandate.

Wheeler also said the commission, at its meeting next month, will take up the issue of mobile indoor location services, or the ability of emergency services to pinpoint 911 callers using cellphones.

“We need to be looking forward in terms of next-generation 911 services, including mobile, indoor location services,” he said.

The FCC is facing pressure from congressional Democrats to craft new regulations requiring emergency responders to locate mobile callers who are indoors.