Top US wireless carriers agree to speed up launch of text-to-911 service

“Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century – and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal," Genachowski said in a statement.

"Last year I announced a comprehensive plan to accelerate the transition to Next Generation 911, including text-to-911, and the FCC has acted to advance this effort," the chairman said. “I also called on the communications industry and public safety entities to work together to enable nationwide text-to-911 as quickly as possible, and I am pleased that the nation’s four largest wireless carriers and leading public safety organizations have responded with today’s commitment, which will save lives starting in 2013."

The text-to-911 capability will provide another way for people to contact emergency services if they are in a situation where a voice call could jeopardize their safety, and also help people with hearing or speech disabilities who may not be able to make a emergency voice call, the FCC said.

The four carriers have also agreed to implement an automatic "bounce back" text message that will tell subscribers if their text did not reach 911 because the emergency text service has not been rolled out to their area yet. The carriers will implement this message by June 30, 2013.

Next week the FCC will consider other ways to roll out the text-to-911 function for all subscribers, and Genachowski vowed that the commission will continue to advance its work in this area. 

"We will also take additional steps in this area next year, including closely monitoring carriers’ compliance with the commitments they have made today and addressing other aspects of Next Generation 911 such as enabling transmission of photos and videos to 9-1-1 centers," Genachowski said. "We are also working to strengthen the resiliency and reliability of the existing 911 system, where significant deficiencies were revealed by this summer’s Derecho.”