On January 9, 2014, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler released a blog post indicating that he intends to prod smaller wireless carriers and over-the-top (OTT) texting services to provide their customers text-to-911 services by no later than the end of this year. Chairman Wheeler also circulated a draft policy statement and further notice of proposed rulemaking on this topic that the FCC commissioners will consider at the FCC’s next open meeting scheduled for January 30, 2014.
Chairman Wheeler stated in his blog post that “consumers expect that they will be able to reach emergency services by texting 911, whether they’re using traditional SMS or an over-the-top interconnected text app. This is not an unreasonable expectation — consumers should have the ability to reach 911 by all commonly accepted means of communication.” After Chairman Wheeler applauded the four nationwide wireless carriers for enabling text-to-911 services for their customers, he also noted that there are “text service providers who do not enable 911 access,” although they have the ability to do so. “Under the concept of the ‘regulatory see-saw’ that I have often expressed, if companies won’t act voluntarily, it becomes necessary to regulate.” Accordingly, the FCC will consider the policy statement on January 30 that sets forth the Commission’s expectations with respect to text-to-911 for all text providers operating in this space, as well as the further notice of proposed rulemaking to extend text-to-911 obligations to all text service providers. The Chairman’s full blog post can be found here.
We will continue to monitor the Commission’s efforts to regulate texting service providers and can assist in filing comments once the further notice of proposed rulemaking is released.