FCC Proposes Initiative Asking Apple and Other Wireless Services to Provide Text-to-911
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission recently proposed a set of guidelines regarding emergency text-to-911 messages that would require cellular carrier and internet-based messaging providers like Apple to support the initiative. According to the new statement from the FCC, the body hopes to add messaging services like Apple’s Messages app to an existing voluntary commitment from the four largest U.S. cellular carriers, all of which promised to activate text-to-911 capabilities by 2014. The FCC said the following:
Implementing text-to-911 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.
In its proposal, the Commission calls for “over the top” text messaging apps or those that support sending texts to phone numbers and allow for the transmission of emergency messages to 911 call centers. Apple’s Messages, formerly called iMessage is a prime example of a so-called “over the top” app as the service is data-based and doesn’t even rely on a cellular network’s SMS assets. The purpose behind the whole initiative is a smooth transition into what the FCC calls “Next-generation 911,” or the move to cutting-edge communications that will reportedly enhance how first responders react to emergency situations. As of right now, messaging apps are seen as a natural evolutions to texts as an increasing number of mobile users are choosing data-based alternatives to SMS and MMS. According to the FCC:
By proposing to extend text-to-911 requirements to certain “over the top” applications [...] the FCC’s proposal would ensure that as text messaging evolves, consumers will be able to reach 911 by the same texting methods they use every day.
The idea of including additional services such as Apples Messages app is likely due to a previous report, which showed that Messages is causing a decline in U.S. texts for the first time in years, suggestions the proliferation of smartphones and tablets in taking a toll on the longstanding SMS protocol. The Cupertino California company recently expanded the cross-platform capabilities of Messages with an updated OS X version in Mountain Lion 10.8.2, which allows the Mac client to receive messages sent to a user’s phone number as well.
It definitely seems like having such a feature could come in quite handy for those who are in trouble. After thinking about it some, it seems like a bit of a surprise that such a feature hasn’t already been implemented. Either way, I’m glad to see that the necessary steps to get the initiative rolling are in motion.