FCC closer to requiring text-to-911 emergency services

People could soon be able to send and receive text messages from 911, as the Federal Communications Commission looks to speed up the timeline for what it calls “Next Generation” emergency services.

The FCC is moving closer to adopting a rule that would make text-to-911 emergency services available by the end of the year.

The system would serve as an alternative to calling 911 to alert authorities of emergency situations.

“Americans are increasingly relying on text as an alternative to voice for every day communications,” the agency writes in the Federal Register

The FCC has previously floated the idea, but now it is looking to speed up the timeline to make these emergency services available to the public. The agency is seeking public comment to determine whether cellphone carriers have the technical ability to offer secure text-to-911 services by Dec. 31, 2014.

“At the broadest level, access to 911 is a core value that translates across communications platforms, including text applications, and should not be lost or devalued as technology changes,” it added.

The FCC noted that 91 percent of adults own a cellphone, while 81 percent of those cellphone owners send and receive text messages. In fact, over the last few years, texting has become more popular than calling, the agency noted.

So the FCC found it as no surprise that a growing number of consumers would feel more comfortable using text-to-911 emergency services.

“In light of these trends and the importance of ensuring effective 911 service — particularly for those who cannot access 911 call centers with a voice call ... we believe that text-to-911 capability is a necessary first step in the development of Next Generation (NG) 911 capabilities,” the agency wrote.