December 13, 2012. Several disability groups are commending the FCC and the wireless industry for efforts to implement text-to-911. Last week there was an agreement by major U.S. wireless carriers and public safety leaders on a text-to-911 implementation plan and the FCC also issued an NPRM. These actions resulted from recommendations made by the FCC's Emergency Access Advisory Committee (EAAC) and other input received in recent years from consumers groups to spur text-to-9-1-1 via SMS and emerging technologies for all Americans as soon as possible. The following is a press release from these consumer groups on this major step forward in implementation of Next Generation 911 services:
Silver Spring, MD - December 13, 2012 - Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Groups announced today that they commend the nation's four largest wireless carriers - AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile - for their voluntary agreement to accelerate the availability of text-to-9-1-1, with major deployments expected in 2013 and a commitment to nationwide availability by May 15, 2014. National Emergency Number Association (NENA) and Association of Public Communication Officers International (APCO), the two major trade associations representing the emergency responders in more than 6,000 public safety answering centers (PSAPs) joined in the agreement with the four major carriers. While voluntary, this agreement will accelerate progress and ensure that over 90 percent of the nation's wireless consumers, including millions of consumers who are deaf or hard of hearing, will be able to access emergency services by sending a text message to 9-1-1, where local PSAPs are also prepared to receive text messages. This voluntary action combined with the announcement by the FCC for a Further Notice of Proposed Rule-Making (FNPRM) on text-to-9-1-1 shows great promise to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Groups that 9-1-1 services will soon be more accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people and others who are at risk in times of emergency.
Consumer groups representing deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened, including those with vision and motor disabilities are now seeing results on improved access to 9-1-1 services after years of participation and collaboration through various proceedings and venues such as the Emergency Access Advisory Committee. The consumer groups are: Telecommunications for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (TDI), National Association of the Deaf (NAD), California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (CCASDHH), Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network (DHHCAN), Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Association of Late-Deafened Adults (ALDA), and Cerebral Palsy and Deaf Organization (CPADO).
Text-to-9-1-1 will provide consumers with enhanced access to emergency communications in situations where a voice call could endanger the caller, or a person with a disability is unable to make a voice call. Text-to-9-1-1 will be an option to, not a substitute for, voice calls to 9-1-1 services, and consumers should always make a voice call to 9-1-1 during an emergency if they can. However, for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have speech disabilities, text-to-9-1-1 opens up previously closed avenues for access to emergency services.
In addition, to help eliminate consumer confusion while text-to-9-1-1 capability is being phased-in, the four carriers have committed to provide by June 20, 2013 an automatic "bounce back" text message to notify consumers if their attempt to reach 9-1-1 was unsuccessful because text-to-9-1-1 is not yet available in their area. Such a message would instruct a consumer to seek alternate means to contact the local PSAP.
In yesterday's formal action with its Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM), the FCC is soliciting input from consumer groups, industry, public safety trade groups, and other stakeholders to take the next steps during the upcoming year to ensure the ability of deaf or hard of hearing consumers to reach 9-1-1 using text messaging, also known as Short Messaging Service (SMS). The FCC's action also calls for all carriers who offer Internet-based text services to make available text-to-9-1-1 service for their deaf and hard of hearing customers using SMS or an emerging technology such as Over-The-Top (OTT) services. The FCC has affirmed several times that the interim text-to-911 solution would benefit not just the deaf and hard of hearing, but also the general public in situations such as the Virginia Tech campus shootings a few years ago that could have been partially, if not wholly averted if the technology was available then. This action by the FCC brings the voluntary commitment of the four major wireless carriers into a rulemaking process that the Consumer Groups expect will mandate text-to-9-1-1 services becoming available by May 2014, to everyone who needs it since such services are critical to saving lives.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Consumer Groups express their deepest gratitude to the FCC for its unwavering commitment to taking additional steps to closely monitor the carriers' compliance with the commitments they have made last week and addressing through its FNPRM on other aspects of Next Generation 9-1-1 such as enabling transmission of photos and videos to 9-1-1 centers. We also commend the FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau for its coordinating work with the activities of the Emergency Access Advisory Committee in the last two years within the deadlines as imposed by the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.
We stand ready to work with the FCC, industry, and public safety trade associations to meet the timelines in deployment, outreach and education, research and development, and regulatory enforcement toward achieving the promise and potential of text-to-9-1-1 emergency calling capabilities for all Americans (including those who are deaf and hard of hearing). We fully expect this process to be contributing significantly toward activation of fully accessible emergency communications capability via text, video, and/or voice as part of the Next Generation 9-1-1 initiative within the next ten years. Many lives, including those of deaf and hard of hearing people, depend on a speedy resolution of these efforts.
Claude Stout, Executive Director, Telecommunications for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing, Inc.,
Howard Rosenblum, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of the Deaf
Sheri Farinha, Vice Chairperson, California Coalition of Agencies Serving the Deaf & Hard of Hearing
Cheryl Heppner, Vice Chair, Deaf & Hard of Hearing Consumer Advocacy Network
Brenda Battat, Executive Director, Hearing Loss Association of America
Brenda Estes, President, Association of Late-Deafened Adults
Mark Hill, President, Cerebral Palsy & Deaf Organization