Emergency text messaging to expand

NEED TO KNOW
  • FCC: Four major wireless carriers will participate
  • Nationwide availability expected by mid-2014
Emergency text messaging to expand

People use their cell phones for almost everything these days. But one area where technology has lagged behind is in contacting emergency services. That's about to change.

The FCC announced Friday, the nation's four biggest wireless carriers -- AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile -- have agreed to step up the availability of text messaging to 911. Major deployments are expected next year, and the FCC says the carriers have committed to bringing the service nationwide by May of 2014.

“Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century," FCC chairman Julius Genachowski said in a statement. "Today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal."

The FCC says texting to 911 will help people in situations where making a phone call would be dangerous, or impossible because the caller is disabled. But the FCC says people should always make a voice call to 911 if possible.

During the phase-in period, the carriers will provide a service that sends a "bounce back" text message to let consumers know if their attempt to text 911 didn't go through because the service isn't active yet in their area. That service will be implemented by June of 2013.

The FCC also said it will consider additional steps to make text-to-911 available from Internet-based text messaging services.

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