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AT&T to Join Verizon in Letting Users Text 911, FCC Says

The four largest U.S. wireless providers have agreed to accelerate the deployment of a feature that lets people send emergency text messages to 911 services, the Federal Communications Commission announced.

Under the agreement, AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA Inc. will do “major deployments” of so-called text-to-911 in the U.S. next year, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a news release.

The feature, which is to become available nationwide by May 15, 2014, will let most mobile users, including millions of people with hearing or speech disabilities, send emergency texts to 911 call centers, which are prepared to receive the messages, Genachowski said.

“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,” he said.

Next week, the FCC will begin considering steps to ensure that other types of Internet-based message services offered by companies such as Facebook Inc. make text-to-911 available to consumers, the agency said.

While the feature is being phased in, the carriers have pledged to send automatic “bounce back” text messages to notify consumers if the service isn’t yet available, according to the FCC, which said the “bounce backs” should be fully available by June 30, 2013.

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