A new proposal from the FTC would require Apple's Messages tool for iOS and OS X to support texts to 911 call centers. In the United States AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile have all agreed to allow users to contact the 911 emergency line via text message by May 15, 2014 under the regulatory body's call to create "Next Generation 911."
The ability to allow users to contact 911 via text message in addition to voice calls offers an additional contact layer for people requiring emergency services. The text option is particularly beneficial for hearing-impaired users or in situations like a home break-in where the user might not be able to speak without giving their location away.
The proposal released today would require "over the top" text messaging services to be compatible with 911 as well. Messages falls into the category of "over the top" messaging services as it works using IP-based protocols. From the FTC's proposal:
Today's Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking anticipates that all wireless carriers, as well as providers of "over the top" text messaging that use IP-based or SMS protocols to deliver text messages to destinations identified by a telephone number, will be required to deploy text-to-911 and to provide "bounce back" messages where text-to-911 is not yet available. While more than 90 percent of smartphone users currently use SMS as their form of text messaging, we are taking forward-looking action given the growth of Internet-based text messaging. The Further Notice also tees up for resolution key issues including standards deployment and service deployment, location accuracy, cost recovery, carrier liability.
Currently the FTC's recommendations are just that -- recommendations -- and not something that is required by law. However, as text message use declines in favor of Messages, Skype texts and Facebook Messenger, one could reasonably expect that all such IP-based services be legally required to connect to 911 one day.