FCC's text-to-911 rulemaking a necessary kick in the pants

There's a saying that "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink."

But that's not actually true, as you can make a horse drink when necessary. It just takes some extra effort and strategy.

As FierceMobileHealthcare has reported, the Federal Communications Commission took a huge step in pushing text-to-911 forward with new rules mandating that all wireless carriers and certain texting applications support the emergency texting functionality by the end of this year.

The FCC decision is a good one, as sometimes the only way to get a horse to drink is to put the needed liquid in a heavy duty bottle or syringe, wedge it behind its back teeth to make it go down. I know this from experience as my horses had colic and that was the only way to get castor and cod oil into their system to help the bowel obstruction.

The thing is, forcing the liquid to help remove an obstacle is not the end-all solution, as anyone who has dealt with colicky horses knows too well. You need to walk that horse on and off for hours and hope the oil and exercise do the trick and that surgery won't be required.

Yes, it's a weird analogy, but the same is true with the FCC action and the need to get text-to-911 in place across the country, available to every citizen.

As two FCC commissioners dissenting on the new rulemaking point out, there are some other obstacles tied to the text emergency effort. Their opinions--that many other steps need to be taken besides regulation, and that public misconceptions about the rule could lead to "tragic" consequences--are valid and shouldn't be dismissed in favor of the majority opinion. The FCC must do a better job of explaining to the public exactly what this rule means.

But the reality is, the battle to make text-to-911 more prevalent needed a push; sometimes a mandate is the remedy, even in a climate where increased regulatory action isn't very welcome.

Right now, text-to-911 functionality is scattered among 100 call centers in 16 states. There are just two states, Vermont and Maine, where emergency texting is available statewide. That statistic must change.

The point of technology is to improve our lives, enhance workflows, save money and drive innovation. Being able to access emergency help is crucial when voice communication isn't an option, such as in the case of those who are deaf, mute or don't have 100 percent voice network uptime in their region but can text.

The FCC has not rushed to judgment on this. The new rule is not a knee-jerk reaction in the least. The dissenters slightly imply that the rulemaking may be more for public relations, but I don't think that argument is true in this case.

Just over a year ago, the FCC issued a rule requiring all wireless carriers and "interconnected" text messaging services provide an automatic "bounce-back" text message to consumers trying to send a text message to 911 in a location where text-to-911 is not available. The service lets consumers know immediately they need to reach emergency personnel through another method. 

The nation's top four carriers quickly propelled the effort forward by agreeing to make text-to-911 service available by May of this year.

Now it's time to get all the other carriers and service providers to do the same. Yes, it costs money. Yes, it take man hours and time. Yes, sometimes such important strategies require giving a kick in the pants to those who are in the position to make it happen.

In this particular case, the FCC has walked the "horses" to the trough and given them more than enough time to drink on their own. It was time to step in and get the horses to drink. - Judy (@JudyMottl and @FierceHealthIT)

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