In May, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it wanted to see its text-to-911 service rolled out across all network carriers in the United States. Now the process has moved a stage further: On Friday, the body voted in favor of rules that will compel U.S. carriers and some app developers to implement the system by the end of 2014.
The option to send an SMS for help is already available on the bigger networks, but this ruling means that smaller firms will also be obliged to co-operate, ensuring the service is available across the country. Just make sure you don’t use it to complain about a Facebook outage.
Related: How to text 911
“Today’s action will make text-to-911 more uniformly available and keeps pace with how Americans communicate,” said the FCC in a press statement. “Reports indicate that more than 7 out of 10 cell phone users send or receive text messages. Text messaging is also widely used by Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities.”
If you develop an app that has the ability to send text messages to U.S. mobile numbers (such as iMessage) then you’ll need to incorporate the service too, though gaming and social media apps (such as WhatsApp) seem to be exempt for the time being. The FCC says that the text-to-911 is currently available in two entire states (Vermont and Maine) and in parts of 16 others.
The new ruling is aimed at speeding up the roll out of text-to-911, which could end up being the difference between life and death for someone who is unable to make a voice call for whatever reason. For now though, the most reliable method of getting help is still to phone 911 rather than text.