FCC may soon mandate text-to-911 capabilities for all carriers, OTT apps

The FCC is expected to mandate that all wireless carriers and over-the-top messaging providers offer text-to-911 services, but it's unclear when that mandate will go into effect.

On Friday, the FCC said that at its Aug. 8 open meeting the commission would "consider a Second Report and Order and Third Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that establishes deadlines for covered text providers to be capable of delivering texts to appropriate 911 public safety answering points, and seeks comment on potential improvements to current text-to-911 technology, such as through better location information."

The rules could affect OTT messaging providers like Facebook, iMessage, WhatsApp and others, as well as smaller carriers like C Spire Wireless and Bluegrass Cellular.

An FCC spokesman confirmed that the order is on the agenda but did not immediately have a comment on when the mandate might go into effect.

Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T), Sprint (NYSE: S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) started offering text-to-911 service in mid-May under an agreement they struck in December 2012. However, the FCC has cautioned that "the ability to contact 911 using text is only available on a limited basis in a few markets. For this reason, you should not rely on text to reach 911."

According to the FCC, as of June 30, the service was available in 79 cities, towns and municipalities as well as across the entire states of Maine and Vermont.

In January, the FCC began considering a rule that would require all wireless carriers and OTT messaging application providers to provide text-to-911 service by the end of 2014. The agency had sought comment on that deadline.

At the time, the FCC encouraged all wireless carriers as well as OTT providers "to work with the public safety community to develop similar commitments" that the four Tier 1 carriers made "to support text-to-911 in a timely manner and to propose a solution for consideration by the FCC." If they develop a satisfactory proposal, the FCC would "only need to codify the solution to ensure that it applies to all providers equally, including new entrants to the marketplace, and gives clarity to the 911 community."

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