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SALT LAKE CITY — Customers of major U.S. wireless carriers should be able to text message 911 by 2014, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The four largest carriers in the U.S. — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint — all signed an agreement to make text-to-911 available to customers by May 15, 2014, with service rolled out in some areas in 2013.
The FCC said people who try to text 911 in areas where the service is currently unavailable will receive a bounceback message with instructions to call 911. The bounceback service will be available as early as June 20, 2013, according to the commission.
Certain over-the-top text messaging services, such as Apple's iMessage, will be required to provide the same service.
"Implementing text-to-911 will keep pace with how consumers communicate today and can provide a life-saving alternative in situations where a person with a hearing or speech disability is unable to make a voice call, where voice networks are congested, or where a 911 voice call could endanger the caller," according to the commission.
The FCC emphasized that the text-to-911 option should only be used in situations where the person is unable to make a call at the time of the emergency.
Upgrades to emergency systems have paved the way for a text-to-911 system. Many communications systems have switched only recently from telephone lines to an Internet-based protocol, making the text-to-911 system the FCC has pushed for a possibility.
The upgrades to the current 911 system, which was built in the 1970s, have come as cellphones have become the primary communications device for many people. More than 34 percent of American households are cellphone-only, and 70 percent of all 911 calls nationwide are made from wireless phones.