Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Communications Government

FCC Mandates Text-to-911 From All US Wireless Carriers 80

Posted by timothy
from the coming-from-inside-the-house dept.
An anonymous reader writes "On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to require all U.S. wireless carriers and popular messaging applications to support texting to emergency response units via 911. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile implemented this capability back in 2012; the FCC's vote will make it mandatory for all carriers that operate in the country as well as all messaging applications that interconnect with the SMS structure in the U.S. to follow suit. One technological hurdle this mandate faces is the difficulty of tracing "the exact physical origin of a text message, particularly in residences with multiple floors."" Somehow I doubt that cellphone calls are consistently traceable to that degree, either, and I've lived in houses with extensions spread over several floors, too.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

FCC Mandates Text-to-911 From All US Wireless Carriers

Comments Filter:
  • by AndroSyn (89960) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @08:34AM (#47636837) Homepage

    I think in some regards being able to send an SMS in an emergency, with important details like the exact address(including quadrant in cities like Washington DC). There are often cases in DC where they send an ambulance or something to the correct street address but the wrong quadrant and end up being 5 miles away from where they need to be.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      So now they will have to decipher poor grammar, spelling and punctuation before sending help.

      • As opposed to the clear, concise descriptions the 911 operators currently get from people in car accidents, house fires, home invasions, etc.

        I'm not worried about operators deciphering the 'txt speak' so much as I am worried that when a person finds themselves in an emergency situation, like, say, a choking child, precious time will be lost as the parent decides how to contact 911, then struggle to enter the proper address in a text message because they think that might cause a quicker response from the fir

    • I think in some regards being able to send an SMS in an emergency, with important details like the exact address(including quadrant in cities like Washington DC).

      They should just let users send direct Facebook/Google+/Twitter messages to 911.

      This way, they'll know what you had for breakfast this morning and who to call in case the initial gps address isn't enough.

  • by PvtVoid (1252388) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @08:50AM (#47636911)
    The problem is that local emergency infrastructure is incapable of handling the technology. Every call 911 from a cell phone, for example, in New York? You get sent to a centralized, state-wide call center, and the first thing they ask is: "What town are you in?" Then they manually route you to an emergency center nearby. They have no infrastructure to use the location info from your phone, despite the fact that it has been mandated in the cell phones themselves for many years. People have died because of this, but there is no funding to upgrade the system.

    You can make the phones as high-tech as you wish, if you don't back it up with government funding for the corresponding infrastructure, it's completely useless.
    • by jbolden (176878) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @01:04PM (#47637741) Homepage

      Look at your phone bill there is a 911 charge on it. There is funding.

      • by brtech (1019012)

        Yeah, at least in most places, there is a "surcharge" on your phone bill that pays for part of the 9-1-1 costs. HOWEVER, it's not enough to pay the actual cost AND in many, many states, the money is siphoned off for other uses. This diversion of surcharges is a huge problem, but states love dipping in to that piggy bank, and sometimes even local governments decide to use the money for a new police cruiser rather than give it to the 9-1-1 system. The rest of the money to operate the system comes from loca

        • by jbolden (176878)

          HOWEVER, it's not enough to pay the actual cost

          I doubt that. I've sold call centers. I can't see anyway that I wouldn't run huge surpluses running a call center with that kind of inflow. Say 150k person county throwing off $1.8m a year. Infrastructure doesn't cost much at all. 10 operators with benefits $400k, $500k. Full features PBX, trunks, pooling, screens, control software $250k. No I don't buy it doesn't cover the costs.

          Now of course if states are redirecting the budget to something else th

          • by brtech (1019012)

            There is a lot more in a PSAP than a typical call center. First of all, they are also paying a portion of the networking costs that get the calls to the call center. Then the skill level for a telecommunicator is a lot higher than a call center, and the manpower costs are probably twice or three times your number. Then they also have to overstaff it - you don't get a "we are experiencing a large volume of calls..." from 9-1-1. They have telecommunitors waiting for calls, not callers waiting for telecomm

            • by jbolden (176878)

              If costs are anywhere near that high, this should just be a national system and not handled by localities at all. It is just insane to do this more than once.

    • . . . if you are near a State or Federal highway, you get routed to the CHP instead of local law enforcement even though in theory, the technology can usually tell whether or not you are actually on the highway or in a nearby city.

    • by brtech (1019012)

      This is not true. Calls from cell phones, as well as SMS is routed to the nearest 9-1-1 center (PSAP) based on the location of the cell tower and sector serving the call or text. In California, and a couple other places, the state police call center answers the call, but they get your location. Then they try to get your exact location using the GPS in the phone, or by triangulating from cell towers. This doesn't always work, and even when it does, it may not be very accurate. So, they always ask you wh

  • by thieh (3654731)
    Now the carriers will charge you for 911 texting capabilities, just like they did for phone calls
    • Will they let you txt 911 for free? Even if you have no txting or are out of pre paid or don't even have a sim card?

    • Re:Great! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Gavagai80 (1275204) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @09:48AM (#47637081) Homepage
      What carrier changes you for 911 phone calls? You don't even need a SIM card to make a 911 call.
      • by Trepidity (597)

        Yeah it's actually kind of common for charities to collect donations of old phones without service, to give to people who they worry might be at risk of needing an emergency call (women at battered-women's shelters, etc.). Any phone with a functioning radio that dials 911 has to be accepted by the carrier it tries to connect to, even if it has no valid account associated. Even applies to GSM phones with no SIM at all (as you mention), and to phones with blacklisted ESNs.

        • by kenh (9056)

          Home phone lines are required to allow 911 calls even when service is disconnected. On the off-chance something happens AND there is a functioning phone connected to the line, it has to allow the call.

          Imagine the lawsuits - "my child was on the floor turning blue, not breathing and I couldn't get a dial tone! The phone company killed my child!"

        • by brtech (1019012)

          Turns out this is a horrible idea. It sounded great, but it causes many, many more problems and it roughly never helps. When you call 9-1-1 from a phone that is not active (it's called an "uninitialized phone"), they don't know who you are (there is no phone number, and no subscriber for that phone number) or where you are (the location stuff needs the phone number to work). 9-1-1 gets this untraceable call from an unknown location.

          Every 9-1-1 call center (PSAP) gets thousands, sometimes tens of thousand

          • by Trepidity (597)

            Yeah, I can believe most of the calls are either accidental or fraudulent. I'm surprised the location part doesn't work though. Shouldn't Phase II E911 be able to report an approximate location based on the tower that's receiving the call?

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        What carrier changes you for 911 phone calls? You don't even need a SIM card to make a 911 call.

        All of them, but they don't charge the caller. They charge their subscribers. Subscribers are charged a number of vaguely described monthly "fees" like "Universal Service Fee". These fees are supposed to pay for mandated features like the ability to call 911. Another one of these "fees" pays for the the ability to port a number from one carrier to another. These mandated features only get imposed if the carriers get an approved way to bill customers for them somehow.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Saturday August 09, 2014 @11:45AM (#47637465) Homepage Journal

    Lots of places can get a text through where voice calls will fail. Especially if you're down in a ravine off a road in a marginal area.

    Now then, I've had a cell phone for 18 years and nothing has changed (regarding coverage gaps - the bills have gone way up). Curious that the FCC is just noticing this now - maybe one of the Commissioners left the metropolis for a few days.

  • ...that SMS text messages include location information (long/lat).

    I could see instances where it would be useful for a security/alarm system to send a text to 911, but the originating number would be set to a fixed location, but for a mobile phone to be required to send the 'exact' location is a technical 'bridge too far' in my opinion...

    Does the FCC really think that in an emergency it is easier/quicker/better to send an SMS 'text' message from a mobile phone, rather than use the phone for it's original pu

    • by jbolden (176878)

      They can call you. There are different types of 911 messages. For example: dead deer blocking lane 17.2 mile market southbound highway XYZ doesn't require a callback.

    • by brtech (1019012)

      What if speaking isn't a possibility? Like, say, you are deaf. Or maybe you are in danger and letting someone know you are calling 9-1-1 would not be good for you. Of you are young, you are stressed, and it just makes more sense to you to text rather than call.

      Normal SMS does not send location. When you send a text to 9-1-1, they get your location and forward it to 9-1-1.

  • by kenh (9056) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @12:49PM (#47637671) Homepage Journal

    911 calls are by nature a conversation, a two-way exchange of details from the caller and suggestions from the operator as the situation unfolds. That will (likely) be lost in a text exchange - what parent will keep texting 'she's not breathing, she's turning blue' to 911 when they are standing by their choking child?

    • by dasunt (249686)

      911 calls are by nature a conversation, a two-way exchange of details from the caller and suggestions from the operator as the situation unfolds. That will (likely) be lost in a text exchange - what parent will keep texting 'she's not breathing, she's turning blue' to 911 when they are standing by their choking child?

      On the other hand, a bystander may be more likely to text than call 911, especially if it's a situation where they don't want their actions known.

    • choking child

      I don't think that's the intended use at all.

      I'm guessing they're expecting texts more like "someone broke into my house, and I'm hiding in the closet", or "my husband is abusing me, and thinks I'm just cleaning up in the bathroom, but I need help", etc. Situations where being discreet is important, situations where people currently try to text 911, and often get no response.

      • by Fnord666 (889225)

        I don't think that's the intended use at all.

        I'm guessing they're expecting texts more like "someone broke into my house, and I'm hiding in the closet", or "my husband is abusing me, and thinks I'm just cleaning up in the bathroom, but I need help", etc. Situations where being discreet is important, situations where people currently try to text 911, and often get no response.

        Agreed. I don't think it's intended to replace a 911 call, but to provide an alternative in situtations, such as you provided, when a 911 call might not be practical. Another example would be during a mass casualty event where 911 calls can't get through because the towers are saturated. SMS messages use essentially no bandwidth and would be able to get through, providing emergency services and first responders with additional information about injuries, people who are trapped, etc.

    • by NoKaOi (1415755)

      911 calls are by nature a conversation, a two-way exchange of details from the caller and suggestions from the operator as the situation unfolds. That will (likely) be lost in a text exchange - what parent will keep texting 'she's not breathing, she's turning blue' to 911 when they are standing by their choking child?

      There are some situations where it's very difficult to make a call, particularly noisy situations. For example, I had to call 911 for a car accident where one of the car's horn was blaring (presumably the front impact had shorted something out). I couldn't hear the 911 operator and she couldn't hear me. I had to walk far enough away that we could hear each other. It would have been much easier to send a text saying something like "Car accident at intersection of X and Y, one driver with non-life-threate

  • Funny FCC does not seem to care about taking action to do something about 911 call centers around the country being inundated by defective, poorly designed "smart phone" emergency dialers designed to bypass lock screens and call emergency numbers via spurious digitizer inputs. Everyone has their priorities....

  • AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile... that pretty much IS all the carriers already. Isn't everyone else just an MVNO through them in the US? Even if there's an exception somewhere, the fact that all four of those support it makes it clear that the carriers are not at all the problem. You can't text 911 because there's like... three cities that are actually set up to receive them.
  • Yes, there are places in the country where a text message can get through but a phone call can't so for search & rescue, this makes sense. All benefit aside though, you can bet that you will see yet another fee on your cellphone bill.

  • by slincolne (1111555) on Saturday August 09, 2014 @08:10PM (#47639645)
    Having a family member recently ill with a chest infection, and completely unable to speak (but able to email, SMS, etc.) - its a great idea.
  • There's been a 'next-generation' 911 effort going on for some years now that will encompass VoIP, video, text and IM from your mobile and PC device. The text/IM stuff is envisioned as a replacement for the current system for the deaf. There will also be better location information and better call routing. http://www.nena.org/ [nena.org] has more.
  • ...but it's going to take forever to text a message on my rotary-dial phone!

Never trust a computer you can't repair yourself.

Working...