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Wireless Carriers Led by AT&T, Verizon to Carry Emergency Texts

Wireless carriers led by AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless will send emergency government messages to mobile-phone users, providing warnings of natural and man-made disasters, a U.S. official said.

The companies, including Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA Inc., will begin relaying the messages in Washington and New York by year’s end, with the service to extend nationwide by April, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said in an interview yesterday.

“This is the ability to have your mobile device be an emergency alert device,” Genachowski said. “Government officials can send alerts in the event of major disasters, can do it on a localized basis, and can make sure that the alerts get through even if there’s network congestion.”

The service is to be formally announced today at an event at the World Trade Center site in New York City, the FCC said in a news release distributed by e-mail. Those participating are to include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate, and executives from the phone companies, the FCC said. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

Wireless companies volunteer to participate in the messaging service, which lets national, state or local officials send text-like alerts about public safety emergencies, according to a fact sheet distributed by the FCC. Customers do not pay for the alerts, according to the agency.

Alerts to mobile devices saved lives during Japan’s March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and may help in situations like the tornadoes that devastated parts of the U.S. South last month, Genachowski said.

AT&T on March 20 proposed buying Deutsche Telekom AG’s T-Mobile in a $39 billion deal that would combine the second- and fourth-largest carriers to create a new market leader, ahead of No. 1 Verizon. The deal needs approval from the FCC and Justice Department.

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