Closing in on his third month as Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) Chairman, Tom Wheeler made clear in a blog post on the FCC website that one of his main priorities is to ensure that telecommunications service providers supply their customers with the most up-to-date emergency service technologies.
911 Text Requirements
While the FCC chairman spoke generally about the increasing role that technology plays in the telecommunications industry, he focused significantly on the increasing use of text messaging. As a result of this trend, Mr. Wheeler made clear that United States consumers expect to have the capability to obtain 911 services via text messaging in the case of emergency. Mr. Wheeler concluded that “[t]his is not an unreasonable expectation – consumers should have the ability to reach 911 by all commonly accepted means of communication.”
Currently the FCC does not require that telecommunications service providers supply customers with emergency 911 text messaging capabilities. However, Mr. Wheeler indicated in his blog post that this might change in the near future. Mr. Wheeler applauded several major telecommunications companies (AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile) for preemptively providing their customers with a means of accessing 911 services via text messaging, but emphasized that numerous telecommunications providers do not provide any such emergency text messaging capabilities and will likely not in the near future, unless required to by the FCC.
To that end, Mr. Wheeler stated that the FCC “will consider a Policy Statement that sets forth our expectations with respect to text-to-911 for all text providers operating in this space, as well as a Notice to extend text-to-911 to all text service providers. Companies that offer texting services, but do not currently provide 911 access will have an opportunity to participate in this proceeding.” The “proceeding” that Mr. Wheeler is referencing is set to be held on January 30, 2014.
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