New rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission promote the support of text-to-911 communications around the country, enhancing the ability of 911 call centers to dispatch first responders to individuals who have speech disorders or are unable to speak due to the nature of their emergencies.
The FCC's latest text-to-911 rules were enacted to drive the rest of the United States' wireless and Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VoIP) providers to follow suit with policies that the country's top wireless carriers have already put into practice. Both wireless and IP-based providers of text-message services will have six months to deliver text-to-911 service whenever a 911 call center requests the capability within the service provider's coverage area.
The FCC has moved to ensure that 911 capabilities keep pace with the evolution of technology, according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. If an individual can use software to text, then, according to Wheeler, the person should be able to send text messages to 911 -- and hopefully those 911 texts won't have anything to do with a Facebook outage.
"Texting has become a widely adopted communications tool and is the principal means by which many people with disabilities communicate," stated Wheeler. "Last year, in fact, Americans sent 1.91 trillion traditional text messages. And beyond that huge number, multiple interconnected text providers have begun competing with the text service provided by CMRS [Commercial Mobile Radio Services] carriers."
Adoption of the latest text-to-911 rules wasn't unanimous. FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly delivered a split opinion.
While O'Rielly concurred with the need to offer widespread availability of text-to-911 service, he questioned the time constraints the FCC has imposed on wireless carriers and VoIP providers.
"Successful technology development involves in-depth analysis and planning, software design cycles, and rigorous testing," stated O'Rielly. "It requires a methodical process that includes time, money, and a whole lot of effort to get to the desired outcome. Some, however, appear completely comfortable in placing blind faith in artificial deadlines. The theory seems to be: if we mandate it, the technology will come. Technology development, however, cannot be premised on a 1980s Kevin Costner movie about baseball."
Commissioner Ajit Pai offered a fully dissenting opinion, stating that the infrastructure for text-to-911 service simply wasn't there. The FCC's inquiry into enhancing text-to-911 adoption taught him of the dangers lying in wait for consumers whose expectations wouldn't be met by the technology, Pai stated.
"It encourages the public to dive into text-to-911 functionality when in reality there's hardly any water in the pool," stated Pai. "Because I believe the order is sure to result in massive consumer confusion, and therefore will endanger rather than advance public safety, I respectfully dissent."