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FCC wants texting apps like iMessage in text-to-911 plan

Proposal would require apps that send text messages to phones to be part of a nationwide initiative to send text messages to authorities in emergencies.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Federal Communications Commission wants to require all cellular carriers and Internet-based messaging providers to support text-to-911 messages.

While the four largest U.S. wireless carriers have already signed on to the plan, the U.S. agency today proposed guidelines that would require "over the top" text messaging apps -- those capable of sending text messages to phones -- to be part of the initiative, which is expected to operational by 2014. Apps that would presumably be part of the initiative include Apple's iMessage, BlackBerry's BBM, Android's MightyText, and Saumsung's ChatOn, among others.

While most text messages are SMS that are already carrier supported, the FCC noted that an increasing number of consumers are using Internet-based text messaging apps on smartphones and other mobile devices.

"By proposing to extend text-to-911 requirements to certain 'over the top' applications," the agency in a statement, "the FCC's proposal would ensure that as text messaging evolves, consumers will be able to reach 911 by the same texting methods they use every day."

Dubbed "Next Generation 9-1-1," the FCC has been working on this project for the last two years. AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint, and T-Mobile are already working on major deployments expected to be rolled out in 2013, with the service being fully available nationwide by May 15, 2014.

The FCC noted that the text-to-911 service could markedly help the millions of U.S. residents that have hearing or speech disabilities and are unable to make voice calls.

"Implementing text-to-911 will keep 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," the FCC said.