Soon, you will be able to text 911. After a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission approved a new rule requiring cell providers to support text to 911 by the end of 2014.
In a statement, the FCC said “today’s action will make text-to-911 more uniformly available and keeps pace with how Americans communicate. Reports indicate that more than 7 out of 10 cell phone users send or receive text messages. Text messaging is also widely used by Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities.”
The new rules aren’t limited to carriers, but will also apply to third-party apps that, as the FCC put it, “enable consumers to send text messages to and from U.S. phone numbers.” This would include popular apps like iMessage and Google Hangouts, which can act as your default text messaging service.
While this all sounds good, only two percent of emergency responders can currently receive emergency texts, which doesn’t bode well for this plan. Only 100 call centers in 16 states—including all of Vermont and Maine—are capable of receiving emergency texts. If you text 911 and the call center in your area isn’t capable of receiving texts, you will get an automatic message that says it’s unavailable, which won’t help much, a point that caused Republican Commissioner Ajit Pa to vote against the rule.
“In your moment of need, if you try texting 911 in over 98 percent of the country you won’t reach emergency personnel no matter what application you use,” Pa said. “Nothing in this order will change that fact any time soon.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler knows this isn’t the end solution, but believes we are headed in the right direction by implementing text-to-911 nationwide: “Our first responsibility is to provide for the safety of Americans, and this is a step to continue to fulfill that responsibility. And it is not a final step.”
H/T The Washington Post | Photo via anthony kelly/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)