Mobile devices could soon be used to call for emergency aid.
Mobile devices could soon be used to call for emergency aid.
Declaring 911 access as a core value of American life, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has re-stated its goal of quickly implementing text-to-911 service to the United States, saying that if carriers implement it voluntarily, no additional federal regulations would be required. At its meeting yesterday, the FCC also issued a second Report & Order on the matter, seeking comment on its proposal to set a Dec. 31, 2014 deadline for text-to-911 service—or sooner—and how the service can be expanded to other types of Internet services. In Sept. 2011 the commission raised questions about text-to-911 service as part of an R&O on next-generation 911 (NG911) service. Within a year major wireless carriers in the U.S. voluntarily agreed to begin making technical changes to provide the service, all without FCC regulatory requirements. Last year the FCC required wireless carriers to provide a bounce-back message to subscribers where text-to-911 service wasn’t available, but has been taking a hands-off approach since then.

In its latest R&O, the FCC said, “While we are not adopting rules today, we believe it is both timely and important to articulate the baseline policy guideposts that will form the foundation of future consideration on this topic.” Furthermore, the FCC promised that, “If the multi-stakeholder process achieves these values in a timely manner, we envision that any overarching functional rule adopted by the Commission would not need to impose additional obligations beyond those agreed to in the multi-stakeholder context.”

The commission also recognized the “disparate capabilities of PSAPs in terms of accepting and processing text messages to 911.” They asked for public comment on barriers to PSAP implementation and how the FCC might help overcome funding or other hurdles. The R&O also asked for input on issues covering roaming, liability protection for PSAPs, location technology, and technical models. Download (pdf) the full R&O for more details.

The National Emergency Number Association (NENA) issued a statement on the action:

On behalf of thousands of 9-1-1 professionals across the US and the public we serve, NENA: The 9-1-1 Association today expressed great appreciation of the FCC’s twin actions to advance 9-1-1 technology. “By making sure that the preservation of public safety, including 9-1-1 access and network reliability, is a key requirement for any IP transition trials, the Commission has made clear that consumers will continue to have access to emergency services now and into the future, regardless of changes in network technology,” said Trey Forgety, NENA’s Director of Government Affairs. “This will help lay the foundation for a faster and more widespread deployment of critical Next Generation 9-1-1 services.”

Forgety continued, “One such service was also advanced by the Commission today. Text-to-9-1-1 will initially be deployed as an extension of current E9-1-1 systems, but will ultimately be a core service of Next Generation 9-1-1 systems. To better serve individuals with hearing and speech disabilities, better protect victims of domestic violence and home invasions, and better connect with consumers when voice service is overloaded, text-to-9-1-1 must be made available as widely as possible and as soon as possible. That means carriers and PSAPs alike must move swiftly to bring this new capability to consumers, and today’s action by the FCC will help to make that possible. NENA looks forward to working with the PSAP community to meet Chairman Wheeler’s challenge to enable ubiquitous PSAP receipt of text messages.”

The Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) issued a statement:

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a Policy Statement and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning the provision of text to 9-1-1 services and other next generation 9-1-1 applications.The Policy Statement builds upon the earlier voluntary agreement APCO reached with the four national wireless carriers and NENA to offer text to 9-1-1 service. “APCO is pleased with the progress of our voluntary agreement and appreciates the Commission’s acknowledgement, through its Policy Statement, of the value of this agreement to serve as a model for extending text to 9-1-1 services to other parties and platforms,” said APCO President Gigi Smith.

President Smith continued, “While the voluntary agreement was a successful and strong first step, it was limited to the four national carriers and Short Messaging Service (SMS) texts. We are pleased that the FCC is also proposing rules to achieve more widespread availability of text to 9-1-1 from all wireless service providers and over-the-top messaging applications that interconnect with the telephone network, and are mindful of Chairman Wheeler’s call for ‘PSAPs to do their part’ and adopt capabilities to receive text 9-1-1 calls.”

In this regard, President Smith committed to, “continuing and extending APCO’s collaborative approach to all stakeholders, while at the same time working within the FCC’s notice and comment framework, to achieve the most effective outcome to enable the public to send texts to 9-1-1 whenever a voice call is not possible.”

President Smith added that, “Public education will be key to ensure that the general public is best informed as to the existing and future availability and limitations of text to 9-1-1 services.”

FCC Commits Big to Text-to-911 Service