Apple, Wireless Carriers to Offer Text-to-911 Under FCC Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission today proposed requiring all wireless carriers and providers of some Internet-based messaging services, such as Apple Inc., to let people send emergency text messages to 911 call centers.

The proposal would build on an agreement among the nation’s four largest wireless carriers to accelerate so-called text-to-911 service.

Under the voluntary schedule announced last week, AT&T Inc., Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA Inc. agreed to make the feature available nationwide by May 15, 2014, according to the FCC.

The agency is seeking comment on whether that deadline can be applied to other wireless carriers and some Internet-based services.

Text-to-911 service “will keep pace with how consumers communicate today and can provide a lifesaving alternative in situations where a person with a hearing or speech disability is unable to make a voice call, where voice networks are congested, or where a 911 voice call could endanger the caller,” the FCC said in a statement e-mailed by Justin Cole, an agency spokesman.

The FCC proposed that wireless and some Internet services send automatic “bounce back” text messages to notify consumers if the service isn’t yet available in their location and encourage them to call 911 if possible.

The four largest wireless carriers have pledged to make bounce backs fully available by June, the FCC said.

“Any public safety solution that does not encompass all texting services will result in potentially deadly customer confusion,” Bob Quinn, AT&T senior vice president of federal regulatory and chief privacy officer, said in an e-mailed statement. “We appreciate the commission’s willingness to attack this challenge in a comprehensive manner.”

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