The Federal Communications Commission today announced a proposal that would extend a previous agreement requiring wireless carriers to allow their users to send SMS messages to 911 call centers. The proposal would extend the requirement from simple SMS texting to "over-the-top" messaging services like Apple's iMessage.
The four major American carriers, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile, have already agreed to make the SMS-to-911 feature nationwide by May 15, 2014.
By adding support for "over-the-top" messaging services, the FCC believes it can help keep pace with how people use their phones as users turn more to text messages rather than phone calls. Additionally, the text-to-911 feature could assist deaf users, as well as those in home invasion or other situations where making a voice call could be dangerous.
Today’s Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking anticipates that all wireless carriers, as well as providers of "over the top" text messaging that use IP-based or SMS protocols to deliver text messages to destinations identified by a telephone number, will be required to deploy text-to-911 and to provide "bounce back" messages where text-to-911 is not yet available. While more than 90 percent of smartphone users currently use SMS as their form of text messaging, we are taking forward-looking action given the growth of Internet-based text messaging. The Further Notice also tees up for resolution key issues including standards deployment and service deployment, location accuracy, cost recovery, carrier liability.
iMessage allows people to link their phone numbers with the service and it could be used to text 911 call centers, instead of using SMS messaging as a fallback. If 911 call centers don't support text-to-911 in a particular area, users would receive "bounce back" messages to advise them to call 911 via the traditional message.
As of now, this is just a proposal, not an official action, and that there is no set timetable from the FCC.