updated 02:56 am EST, Thu December 13, 2012
Silent texts can save lives, fight crime through more citizen involvement
The FCC is calling on the top cellular carriers in the US to implement a text-to-911 system similar to that used throughout Europe, proposing a method called "over the top" messaging (uses either Wi-Fi or 3G/LET depending on what's available) similar to Apple's own Messages service. A text-to-911 service offers a number of advantages that complement traditional phone-based 911, including the ability to send silent texts in dangerous situations, aid for those who cannot speak (or speak clearly in some situations), assistance for the deaf and so on.
Countries such as Britain have had the service for years, and report that it seems to encourage citizen reporting of crimes and emergencies by integrating into their existing messaging system. Texts are also sent instantly and can simply include a short description of what's happening and where. Services such as Apple's Messages have become so popular that the US recently saw its first drop in SMS texting in years, much to the consternation of carriers.
The FCC calls text-to-911 a service that could "provide a life-saving alternative" that will "keep pace with how consumers communicate today." For example, someone who is already texting someone else witnesses a crime in progress, and quickly sends a text to 911 saying "bank robbery, first national" with the user's location information already included. This could send police on their way much more quickly than a phone call where excited callers may forget or be slow in establishing all the key details.
Apple's Messages program can be set up to be ubiquitous across all Apple devices, including the Mac (running Mountain Lion). It offers the option of sending or receiving free-of-charge messages using 3G/LTE or Wi-Fi on any or all of the devices a person owns. The program can be set up to send texts and MMS-type messages to a receiver's phone number or email, meaning that even devices that don't have phone numbers such as an iPad can still receive the texts.