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Big Four US Mobile Networks Agree to Emergency SMS
Source: totaltele.com
Source Date: Friday, December 07, 2012
Focus: Internet Governance
Country: United States
Created: Dec 11, 2012

The four largest U.S. cellular carriers have agreed to allow their customers to send text messages to a 9-1-1 call center during an emergency nationwide by 2014.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp. and T-Mobile USA Inc. have committed to the program, which is expected to deploy next year and be nationwide by May 15, 2014.

Emergency call centers can't receive text messages yet, so carriers have agreed to automatically send a bounce-back message that urges the customer to make a regular voice call instead.

Voice calls are still the most efficient means of communicating in an emergency, public safety groups said. But texting has its benefits, particularly in situations where talking could put the victim in danger, in a place where signal strength is low or if the caller has a hearing or speech disability. It also comes at a time that many people communicate via text rather than voice calls.

"Access to 9-1-1 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century--and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said."This is good progress, but our work is not done."

At its public meeting next week, the FCC will discuss how to make sure the program is available for customers of other cell carriers, as well as those who use Internet-based texting services.

Trial programs are already underway in Tennessee over AT&T's network and in Vermont, Virginia and North Carolina with Verizon. In Vermont, the system has received two text messages--one from someone in the process of committing suicide and the other who was being physically abused by a spouse--according to a letter the state filed with the FCC. Responders were able to successfully intervene in both situations, and in the domestic violence case, arrested the spouse.

"Those who can't make a voice call should have the same right to interact directly with our emergency system," David Tucker, executive director of Vermont's Enhanced 9-1-1 Board, told the FCC."Finally, there is a means for those individuals to do so."

(By Sarah Portlock)
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