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FCC Adopts Rules To Help Consumers During Text-to-911 Transition

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Released: May 17, 2013


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This is an unofficial announcement of Commission action. Release of the full text of a Commission order constitutes official action.
See MCI v. FCC. 515 F 2d 385 (D.C. Circ 1974).



May 17, 2013

Rochelle Cohen (202) 418-1162



Wireless Carriers and Providers of Interconnected Text Messaging Must Send “Bounce-

Back” Messages to Consumers Who Text 911 Where the Service is Not Offered

Washington, D.C. – The Federal Communications Commission has adopted rules requiring wireless
carriers and certain other text messaging providers to send an automatic “bounce-back” text message
to consumers who try to text 911 where text-to-911 service is not available. The FCC’s requirement
will help protect the public by substantially reducing the risk of consumers sending a text message
to 911 and mistakenly believing that 911 authorities have received it. Instead, consumers will
receive an immediate response that text-to-911 is not supported and to contact emergency services
by another means, such as by making a voice call or using telecommunications relay services (if
deaf, hard of hearing, or speech disabled) to access 911.
The FCC noted that deployment of Next Generation 911, including text-to-911 service, has begun,
but the transition is still in the very early stages and will not be uniform. During the transition, text-
to-911 will be available in certain geographic areas sooner than others and may be supported by
some service providers and 911 call centers but not others. In addition, as text-to-911 becomes
more widely available, it is likely to raise consumer expectations as to its availability, which makes
it increasingly important for the public to know when the service is not available in an emergency.
To address these concerns, the FCC is requiring wireless carriers and “interconnected” text message
providers – that is, providers of software applications that enable consumers to send text messages
to and receive text messages from all or substantially all text-capable U.S. telephone numbers – to
implement the bounce-back capability no later than September 30, 2013. This requirement does not
apply to certain text message applications that reach only a defined set of users, such as those within
games and social media.
The FCC’s action builds upon a voluntary commitment of the four largest U.S. wireless carriers –
AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, and Verizon – to provide bounce-back messaging capability
throughout their networks by June 30, 2013. These carriers, with the support of leading public
safety organizations (the National Emergency Number Association and APCO International), also
voluntarily committed to make text-to-911 service available to their customers by May 15, 2014,
in areas where the local 911 call center is prepared to receive the texts. Last December, the FCC
proposed rules to require all wireless carriers and interconnected text message providers to
likewise deploy text-to-911 in areas where the 911 call center is prepared to receive the texts,
seeking comment on an appropriate timeframe for this requirement. Today’s FCC action

addresses only the provision of bounce-back messages; the FCC will address text-to-911
implementation at a later date.
The deployment of text-to-911 service, including today’s action requiring bounce-back messages,
is an important step in the nation’s transition to a Next Generation 911 system that will use cutting-
edge communications technology to assist first responders in keeping communities safe. Text-to-
911 keeps pace with how consumers communicate today and can provide a lifesaving 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. At the
same time, for people who can make voice calls, text-to-911 is a complement to, not a substitute
for, existing voice-based 911 service – those consumers should always make a voice call to 911
during an emergency if they can.
Action by the Commission May 8, 2013, by Report and Order (FCC 13-64). Chairman
Genachowski, Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel with Commissioner Pai concurring.
Chairman Genachowski, Commissioners Clyburn, Rosenworcel, and Pai issuing statements.
Commissioner McDowell not participating.
– FCC –
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