Just this past Friday, the FCC voted to require all mobile carriers and "interconnected text providers" (i.e. iMessage) to allow their customers to text 911 by by next year. Which would be great except for one, itty-bitty little problem: The FCC can't do actually anything about it.
While the federal government does (theoretically) have jurisdiction over mobile carriers, that's only half of the equation. As the National Journal points out, if your state doesn't have a call center system in place that can handle texts to 911, it doesn't matter whether your carrier sends the message or not—nothing's there to catch it.
About 2 percent of emergency call centers around the country are prepared to handle text messages, and the FCC does not have authority to require that capability.
Instead, the decision to require or not require call centers to be text-compatible belongs with individual states and counties.
Vermont became the first state to adopt text-to-911 statewide this year after an early trial with Verizon in 2012 dispelled "urban legends" that a flood of text messages would result.
While traditional phone calls are almost always preferred (the location-tracking data they provide is far more reliable), emergency texts could be a lifesaver in situations of domestic abuse where the caller is forced to hide. For now, though, all the FCC can really do is hope the move encourages states to match carrier requirements. Because until they do, anyone attempting to text 911 in a non-compatible state will just get a failure-to-send bounce-back message in return.
Our current means of texting, though, are little more than a bandaid for what's to come—Next Generation 911. But until we get that system in place, and until states start picking up the slack—we're stuck with a phone call. [National Journal]