(Reuters) - Four top U.S. mobile phone service companies have agreed to set up a service to allow people to send text messages to emergency aid call center 911, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) said.
At present, emergency 911 services can be accessed only through a phone call. The change will particularly help people with hearing or speech disabilities.
AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications, Sprint Nextel Corp and T-Mobile have agreed to provide text-to-911 services, with major deployments expected in 2013, the FCC said in a statement. The service should be available nationwide by May 15, 2014.
"Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century and today, we are one step closer towards that vital goal," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said.
The carriers have committed to provide an automatic "bounce back" text message by June 30, 2013 if text-to-911 is unavailable in their area. The message would tell users to make a voice call to a 911 center until the program is rolled out.
(Reporting by Sakthi Prasad in Bangalore; Editing by Richard Pullin)